By Kenya Godette

For Miriam Gourdine, graduating from Old Dominion University is more than just a step forward in her career goals. It’s also a continuation of her late mother’s legacy: service to mankind.

“This is for my daughters. This is for my mama, Diane,” she said. “She helped everybody; my mom would literally give you the shirt off her back.”

Gourdine, a transfer student from Virginia Peninsula Community College, began pursuing a bachelor’s degree at ODU in the fall of 2021. “It was always between human services and social work,” she said.

She eventually committed to the human services track with a concentration in substance abuse and addiction, saying that would better prepare her for her ultimate goal: starting a non-profit for homeless and at-risk families.

“If someone’s family need is bigger than their pocketbooks, I want to have resources to help,” Gourdine said. “I want to create a place for the people who others count out. I know there are a lot of people providing services like this, but I want to throw my hat in the ring. I’m always asking myself, ‘How can I do more?’”

Service to others is a core value of Gourdine’s that extends beyond her degree. She is a long-time volunteer for the Salvation Army and encourages her daughters to volunteer wherever they go. She hopes to instill in them what her mother instilled in her: “If I’m blessed, I have to bless others.”

Gourdine’s internship supervisor at the NATASHA House, a transitional home for homeless women and children in York County, her unwavering commitment to helping others shined. Dr. Karen Brown, Miriam’s internship supervisor and executive director of the NATASHA House said,

“Throughout the time I've known Miriam, as both her mentor and direct supervisor, I have seen many examples of her unfailing care, talent, dedication, and have long been impressed by her diligence, work ethic and selfless love. She has shown me time and again that she is a positive, motivated leader with amazing potential.”

Gourdine excitedly shared how she feels incredibly prepared as she advances to the next phase of her career. She talked about how her classes and internships were always relevant in real-world scenarios. Even now, her work as a program specialist for the Newport News Department of Human Services allows her to implement the lessons she learned in the classroom.

“I could refer back to my notes and apply them to my internships, and now, my job,” she said.

As a non-traditional student, Miriam worked hard to balance her home life, career and schoolwork. Maintaining a full-time job, being a mother of two, a wife, dog mom and student has not always been easy. She credits ODU with allowing her to complete her studies on a flexible schedule.

“I decided to go back to school when my youngest daughter started high school and I was very self-conscious about it. Why am I here? What point am I trying to prove?” Gourdine said. “At ODU, I never felt out of place. I was able to put age on the back burner. In every class, I felt welcomed and I never felt my age was a hindrance to me at all.”

Gourdine added that she was able to share her perspective as a mom and someone with more life experience with her younger classmates. So, she was a natural choice to speak at the ODU Campus Connection event in 2022.

“I never felt that I couldn’t do this … I’m about to cry,” she said emotionally. “This is something that I’ve wanted since I was in my early 20s. I’m so thankful that I came here. I love ODU for that!”

In true Gourdine fashion, she was not content with just being a student at ODU. She served as president for the Beta Gamma chapter of the Tau Alpha Upsilon Human Services Honor Society, as a member of the Tau Sigma National Honor Society, was chosen for the Behavioral Health Workforce Education and Training internship grant and was selected for the ODU Human Services outstanding intern award.

After graduation, Gourdine plans to “take a break and enjoy the moment of what I’ve accomplished. This is something I’ve wanted since I graduated high school in the late ’90s, mind your business!” she said jokingly. “I’m living in a prayer that I prayed so long ago.”

She is looking forward to spending more time with her daughters, husband and dog before she begins her next journey toward a master’s degree. She will, of course, continue volunteering.

On May 6, Gourdine’s family will cheer her on virtually and in person as she receives her Bachelor of Arts in Human Services. Her graduation gown will be adorned with a small turtle, one of her mother’s favorite animals.  

Gourdine also has a message for traditional and non-traditional students alike.

“For anyone who wants to get their degree, do that,” she said. “Don’t give up. Don’t let fear stop you. If it’s in your heart, give yourself permission to do it. Bet on yourself.”