Two generations, one classroom: A mother and son’s unique journey to DC

Category: Mature learners

Category: Student Profiles


Cheralee Cleary has fond memories of walking her son, James, to his first days of elementary school but never expected that nearly two decades later, their roles would be reversed.

For 32 years, Cheralee worked as a registered nursing assistant in a group home for adults with developmental disabilities. As her license renewal with the College of Nurses approached in 2021, Cheralee started exploring her options and even enrolled in a refresher program at a different college at the peak of the pandemic.

“I was feeling pretty defeated and that’s when James suggested Durham College,” she said.

Already enrolled in Durham College's (DC) Pre-Health Sciences Pathway to Certificate program, this time it was James who stepped up to ease his mother's first-day jitters.

Durham College was the first place I felt at home. Right away, I noticed how accessible everything was on campus. No matter who I talked to – a fellow student, an instructor or the information desk – everyone was happy to help.

– James Cleary, Practical Nursing student

And their DC story doesn’t end there.

Building on the momentum of their Pre-Health Sciences program, in 2023 James and Cheralee enrolled in DC’s Practical Nursing program and continue to reap the benefits of studying – and living – under the same roof.

“When we study together, we like to knit pick each other’s answers,” said James. “It helps us remember key information for tests and let’s us have a bit of fun with it.”

It’s hard to stop being a mom at times, but Durham College makes it so easy to go back to school at any age. The professors are so approachable and the number of resources available to you make the transition so smooth.

– Cheralee Cleary, Practical Nursing student

When asked about their plans after graduation, Cheralee looks forward to putting her new skills to work in long-term nursing care and building on her wealth of experience. As for James, his future specialty has yet to be determined, although surgical nursing tops his list these days.

“I’d like to taste the rainbow – I want to go everywhere.”

For now, they’re content with their friendly competitions and working toward the special moment when they’ll both cross the Convocation stage together next year.