Commencement becomes family affair, as mother and daughter graduate together

June 16, 2016

By Matthew Kredell

Dorothy Wong and her daughter Jennifer Wong (Photo by Deirdre Flanagan)

Dorothy Wong with her daughter Jennifer Wong at commencement (Photo by Deirdre Flanagan)

The USC Price School of Public Policy’s commencement ceremony on May 13 was especially memorable for Dorothy Wong and her daughter Jennifer Wong, who each got to walk across the stage donning a cap and gown as a member of the graduating class of 2016.

Dorothy BS ’82 PharmD ’86 is an Executive Master of Health Administration student, and Jennifer is an undergraduate student in Price’s health policy track.

“We’re proud to have students like Dorothy and Jennifer, who are passionate about making a difference in the health care field,” said Vice Dean and Professor Mike Nichol, who chairs health policy and management programs at Price.

Yet while this was a special moment for the mother-and-daughter graduates, they never planned for this to happen — as both started the process at different times and in different schools.

True Trojan family

All Jennifer knew was that she was going to be a Trojan. With both parents attending USC for undergraduate studies and doctoral degrees in pharmacy, she grew up in a household where cardinal and gold were displayed proudly. She began college as a biology major at USC, thinking she might follow her parents into the clinical field.

A year later, Dorothy decided to pursue an online Executive MHA degree at Price, but it had nothing to do with her daughter being at the university. As an oncology pharmacist at the USC Norris Comprehensive Cancer Center, Dorothy was motivated by colleagues who were or had previously gone through the program.

“They were carrying these books and talking about homework, and they got me excited about what they were learning,” Dorothy said.

In her sophomore year at USC, Jennifer realized that a clinical path wasn’t for her and decided to change majors— but she wasn’t sure to what. Then one day, just by chance, Jennifer was riding her bike on campus off the center path in search of a bathroom, and she came across the Price School’s building, Ralph and Goldy Lewis Hall.

Impressed by the facility, she took out her phone and Googled the Price School, saw there was a health policy track in the Bachelor of Science in Policy, Planning, and Development major, and read more about the curriculum. Immediately, it felt right.

“Once I got into classes I thought this is exactly what I want to be doing,” Jennifer said. “They focus on very real-world problems and I found myself getting impassioned about things such as the changing vaccine and e-cigarette policies.”

Broadening perspectives

Jennifer is planning to pursue a joint law degree and Master of Public Policy in the future to go into health policy advocacy. She spent the spring semester in Washington, D.C., as part of USC Price’s Washington Semester program, interning for Berger Hirschberg Strategies during the day and taking classes at George Washington University at night.

It was only about a year ago that Dorothy and Jennifer realized they could end up walking in the same ceremony.

They once had the same professor, Glenn Melnick. Although they were different level courses, they both addressed healthcare economics and shared a text book. Although, as Jennifer admits, she decided to buy her own book after seeing all of her mother’s messy notes on the pages.

Jennifer takes inspiration from seeing her mother’s continuing pursuit of knowledge while balancing the demands of her professional position. Dorothy explained that the EMHA program broadened her outlook on healthcare, especially on the evolving advancements in technology.

“It’s fun to be in school,” Dorothy said. “I tell my daughter I’m sad that I’m graduating. I’ll probably find something else to take next. I always want to be learning new things.”