As a mother, Howard Community College student Sonia Halboni believes she always has her children's best interests at heart, yet she can remember once when her peers didn't concur.
When her daughter, Daliah, graduated from Marriotts Ridge High School two years ago and couldn't assemble enough financial aid to enroll at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, Sonia suggested she enroll at HCC — where mom was already both a student and an office assistant in the school's science division office.
"Daliah decided to join, even though a lot of the people I knew told me, 'You are killing her talent by letting her go to a two-year college,' " said Sonia. "But I was confident I was doing the right thing, and she was, too. Now she keeps telling me, 'I will never regret doing what I did.'"
That's due, in part, to a ceremony that's coming up May 21 — the two women will graduate together from HCC, two weeks after they each received awards at HCC's Student Support Services awards ceremony on Wednesday.
They will celebrate Mother's Day on the eve of a graduation that culminates two years of being inspirations to many in the HCC community.
Daliah said that for Mother's Day, she and her siblings plan to give Sonia "something special this year, a bracelet that she saw at the mall."
"It is definitely a blessing that we get to experience this milestone together," Daliah said. "Attending college has been a big goal of hers because she didn't get a chance to when she was younger. She has been working on it for a really long time. Some people used to ask, 'When are you going to graduate? You've been going for so many years.' She proved those people wrong."
A Kuwaiti-born woman of Palestinian descent, Sonia, 45, will receive a general studies degree and is considering a career in diagnostic medical sonography.
Daliah, 19, will graduate as a Rouse Scholar with a 3.79 grade-point average. She is president of the Muslim Student Association, a member of the Phi Theta Kappa honor society and works at the counseling and career services office at HCC.
Last week, both received Outstanding Academic Achievement and Contribution to College Life awards. Daliah, who enrolled in the Student Support Services program this year, also received a First-Year Student award for her accomplishments in her first year of the program. She has been accepted to the school's Accelerated Nursing Program and, upon completion, plans to enroll at the University of Maryland, Baltimore.
Speaking at HCC, Sonia discussed trials stretching back to childhood that bolster the accomplishment of her graduation.
Her family was originally from Palestine but moved to Kuwait — where Sonia was born — in 1948 during the Arab-Israeli War.
Sonia and her family were visiting Jordan when the Gulf War broke out and were unable to return to Kuwait. She came to the U.S. 20 years ago, she said, settling with husband, Walid, an engineer, in the Detroit area and beginning a family there. They later moved to the Baltimore-Washington area, and Walid Halboni now works as a project manager with the Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission.
When Sonia decided to go back to school, she struggled with classes early on, mostly because her studies before coming to the U.S. were in Arabic. "But I still managed to get good grades," she said.
At first, Daliah said, she agreed with those who discouraged her from attending a two-year college.
But, she said, her mother "kept urging me to join the Rouse Scholars program. When I got the acceptance letter I sat in the orientation and got a feel for how it really was. After visiting the school and seeing the awesome resources, and the fact that they were paying a majority of my education, I thought it was an opportunity to stay near home and help my mom at home — and get a good education."
"My main goal is that after I get a degree to go back to Palestine and Jordan and try to spread more awareness about certain health hazards that they don't have the equipment or the resources to attain those kinds of things," Daliah said.
The two have never had classes together, but they have been supportive of each other during the process.
Going to school with her daughter, Sonia said, has given her an appreciation for the pressures of class.
"I see how stressful school is, so I don't ask her much at home," said Sonia, who said the two try to spend time together, having lunch or tea or coffee together in the school cafe. "To me, it has really felt good, and maybe it's made me feel young."
Daliah said she has benefited from her mother knowing the "ins and outs of the school and how I can get the kind of help I need. She really helped me when I first came here because she knew more about the school than I did."
"She is definitely my best friend," Daliah said. "For the most part, it's been amazing. Obviously, sometimes seeing each other every day, you get kind of sick of it. But ... by the end of the week I'm like, 'Oh, my God, I'm so happy to have her here.'"