She's come into her own, but Paige Eden '21 had no plans to walk alone. On May 15, during the St. Ambrose University's Spring Commencement Ceremony, she crossed the stage wearing a necklace that draped just above her heart. On it hung a charm, a small vessel, that held her mother's ashes.
It was Paige's way of honoring her mother and thanking her, too. Before her mother, Michele, was diagnosed with cancer, during her treatment and even after, she was Paige's biggest supporter and motivator, always reminding her daughter of how far she had come and how much she could achieve. It was an unshakable faith that Paige has embraced as her own.
"I am proud of the person I am right now. I am proud of the qualities I've gained and how much I've grown since my mom's death, and even before she passed away. Taking care of her when she was in hospice and having all of that responsibility just put everything into perspective. It was like I had an awakening," she said.
"I found out who I am and what my strengths are. I don't think I would have that self-awareness of myself today without that big life experience happening to me."
Now, Paige plans to build on her Bachelor of Art degrees in Social Work and in Psychology, and her minor in Art Therapy, through a Master of Social Work degree. She'll begin the one-year, Advanced Standing program at SAU just weeks after graduation.
Paige wants to work in hospice so she can help individuals and families as they journey through loss.
Her academic achievements, and confident march into graduate school, were goals she questioned at times. School has never come easy to Paige, and the effort she put into her studies always seemed to be greater than most students. "I've always had the determination and the motivation, but when I'd do an assignment that was challenging for me, I'd knock myself down and be like, I can't do this," she said.
"That's when my mom would come in and lay it out for me and she was like, ‘You've done a lot. You've become really successful. I'm very proud of you,' and I was just really happy to hear that," Paige recalled.
After her mother's death on April 15, 2020, and after Paige returned to the Quad Cities from her home near Chicago to continue her junior year, the weight of loss made everything more difficult. "I wasn't as motivated to do my school work. I knew if I started struggling with something, I couldn't text her. I couldn't reach out to her, and she was the person who always helped me through it. I felt like I had been doing everything to make my mom proud and she's not here. So, what's the point?" Paige said.
Then, it became clear. "Not long after she passed away, the Dean's list came out and I made it for the first time. I worked so hard each semester to try to get on that list for my mom because we always talked about it. I finally made it, and that showed me that I could do it if I really put my mind to it. I may have to do extra work to get there, but I've been willing to do that so I can graduate and make my mom proud."
Paige became more aware of her strengths and qualities throughout her education. Her psychology and social work courses "opened my mind and eyes to so much," she said. Learning about empathy and how to talk and listen to clients, were useful during her mother's illness and death. "And, gaining that open mindset from my social work classes and critical thinking helped me get through everything," she said.
Paige built on that foundation during an internship this year at the Salvation Army Family Center in Davenport, where she assisted families experiencing homelessness. She was the first intern at the agency and didn't know what to expect. "I love it there. The staff is amazing. I've learned so many qualities about myself that I probably wouldn't have been able to point out before, especially strengths in the social work field," she said.
"Self-initiation is an area in which I have come a long way. When I first started I was very shy and not confident in what I was doing, and I would just wait for them to tell me to do something. I'm a completely different person now. The experience also taught me that I can be flexible. I'm okay with doing new things," including calling clients for follow-ups and taking notes. "My internship taught me those skills, but I am not just learning them for a job, I am bringing them into my personal life," Paige said. "I have more confidence about doing new things and talking to people that I've never had a conversation with before. I've learned I am capable of a lot more than I tell myself."
Paige has always struggled with claiming her achievements and growth. "Having my mom there, I don't think I realized that I could be my own cheerleader until she passed away. Because then I had her in my head, and if I ever think negatively, I'm like, my mom wouldn't let me think this way. She would connect with me with her words and be, like, ‘You're so close, you're capable of so much.' And having those memories of her having those conversations with me, helped me become my own cheerleader," she said.
"It still gets tough without her motivation here, but I guess it's just teaching me that I need to have more motivation within myself. And I know I'll be okay, I have her around my neck. She's still here with me, that's what I just keep reminding myself. I know if I hold my necklace and remember how much of a support system she was to me, I can get through anything."
“I am proud of the person I am right now. I am proud of the qualities I’ve gained and how much I’ve grown since my mom’s death, and even before she passed away. Taking care of her when she was in hospice and having all of that responsibility just put everything into perspective. It was like I had an awakening."
Paige Eden '21