Granddaughter Graduates College Alongside Grandmother Who Raised Her: 'It Meant the World to Me'

"To be making her proud while she was making me proud was so awesome," Karea Berry tells PEOPLE

Photo: Courtesy GradImages

A pair of students recently made an unlikely twosome as they followed each other across the stage to get their college diplomas — they weren’t just classmates, but a grandmother and the granddaughter she raised graduating together.

Belinda Berry, 62, and Karea Berry, 25, both earned their degrees from Chicago State University on Thursday, the first grandmother-granddaughter graduating duo in the school’s 150 year history.

“It meant the world to me, because that’s the person, aside my from my daughter, that means the most to me,” Karea tells PEOPLE. “To be making her proud while she was making me proud was so awesome.”

Their twinning isn’t over yet. Both women are going on to earn their master’s degrees from the university.

The two each started school in 2010 but never expected to graduate together, says Karea, who entered college right after high school but took time off after her daughter was born in 2012. She returned full-time in 2015 after earning enough money to continue her education, she says.

Courtesy Karea Berry

Karea admits she initially wasn’t thrilled running into her grandmother. “I was like, ‘Oh my God, no. My grandma is on campus yelling my name?’ She’d say ‘Don’t you have to be in class?’ ”

But within a few years, her attitude changed. “Just knowing she was there brightened my day,” says Karea, who received her bachelor’s degree in criminal justice and plans to pursue a master’s in mental health counseling. She hopes to start her career as Chicago police officer and then wants to open a community resource center in Englewood, one of Chicago’s poorest and most violent neighborhoods.

“Those resources are needed in that area,” she says. “I would like to help where I’m from, to make that a better community.”

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Meanwhile, Belinda had graduated high school in the 1970s and started college, but left to raise her two daughters, work several jobs and care for her elderly uncle, who suffers from Alzheimer’s disease, she tells PEOPLE.

Belinda had taken in Karea when she was just a year old to give her a better life than her daughter could, she says, and didn’t think she’d ever have a chance to pursue her long-held dream to complete her degree.

But when she got laid off from her job as a hospital administrative assistant, she used the opportunity to enroll in classes, attending at night while doing occasional clerical work at the school, she says.

As one of the school’s older students, Belinda said was self-conscious at first. But those feelings disappeared one day while standing in line at registration and saw the student in front of her was an older man with a cane. “Then I said to myself, I’m okay,” she says.

Courtesy GradImages

Belinda graduated magna cum laude with a bachelor’s in business administration, one of the top students in their class of 457 graduates. She wants to pursue a master’s in business administration and then open her own women’s clothing boutique.

As a newly minted graduate, Belinda hopes others looks to her example. “I would like to be an inspiration to the young and old as well,” she says. “You can achieve whatever you want to no matter what your age.”

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