Anastasia Roura remembers the first time she took a class at Stony Brook University with her best friend, Helena. The course was sociology of statistics, which helped fulfill requirements for both of their degrees -- Helena was an anthropology and sociology double major, and Anastasia majored in women’s and gender studies.
The pals took a selfie outside the classroom before going inside and choosing seats next to each other. As part of an icebreaker, the students went around the room introducing themselves, stating their name, major, the reason they’re taking the class and a fun fact about themselves.
Anastasia remembered, “I think I said something like, ‘Hi, my name is Anastasia, I’m majoring in women’s and gender studies, I’m taking this course because it fulfills one of my requirements, and I love Harry Potter.’”
“So when it was my turn,” Helena recalled, “I said, ‘Hi, my name is Helena Roura. I’m married, I have two children and they both attend college… I’m an anthropology and sociology double major, and this is my beautiful daughter Anastasia. And yes, we’re in class together.”
On Friday, Anastasia, 24, and Helena, 44, will graduate together from Stony Brook University. For both of them, this milestone was years in the making. But for Helena, it was almost a lifetime.
Helena graduated from William Floyd High School in 1991. She got engaged to her husband, Miguel, soon after. She headed to University of Minnesota for a year before returning to Long Island to be with her grandfather, who was diagnosed with cancer. Miguel had been serving in the Navy at this time and living in Japan. Once the couple reunited, they got married and started a family. When Helena was 20, she gave birth to Anastasia.
“My husband and I always knew that we wanted to have our family young,” Helena said. “We wanted to be young, energetic parents with lots of energy and lots of patience.”
After giving birth to her second child, Xavier, the following year, she began to happily devote her days to caring for her family and their home in Mastic.
But as an avid reader and conscientious student all her life, school was always in the back of Helena’s mind.
“I promised myself that someday I’ll go back,” Helena said. “It’s not about me right now.”
At first, Helena thought she’d go back once the kids started elementary school, “but it was way too busy,” she said. “They were in so many activities and clubs and we just really wanted to give 100 percent for the kids. I really wasn't worried about when I would go back. I always knew that I would, and I hoped that my dream would come true someday.”
In 2011, Anastasia graduated from William Floyd High School, just as her mother did. She headed to Hofstra University for a year before transferring to Suffolk County Community College. She was in her second year of school when Helena decided to start the college application process while home alone one day. Helena and her two children attended Suffolk at the same time, commuting to campus together nearly every day.
Anastasia transferred to Stony Brook University in 2014 after earning her associate degree in liberal arts. The following year, Helena followed.
“I like to say that I waited up and took my time and waited for my mom to catch up so we could graduate together,” Anastasia said. “It wasn’t the original plan, but I’m really happy with the way it’s working out.”
Over the course of their time at Stony Brook, the pair took two courses together, but shared several professors and took a few of the same classes at different times.
Anastasia and Helena would choose their classes together every semester, coordinating so they could commute to campus on the same days. And every morning, they got lattes before class.
“We were able to do it together,” Anastasia said. “If she had a test, I would drive so she could have that extra 45 minutes of studying instead of driving.”
What’s next for the mother-daughter duo? They want to keep learning: Helena will be applying to a dual masters program at Stony Brook in hopes of studying nutrition and public health. Anastasia is applying to the school’s nursing program.
Anastasia said she’s so proud of her mother’s achievements, and that from the very beginning, “a wonderful example was set.”
Said Anastasia, “It kind of makes sense for us to be receiving our bachelors at the same time, because my mother’s been with me every single step of the way — from being class mom, to going on school trips, to helping me make my eighth-grade Spanish piñata final.”
“I’m pretty sure it was a pineapple paper mache,” Helena said with a laugh. “And it was amazing.”