May 10, 2019
mother daughter posing in cap and gown

For Viola Caldwell, 69, and her daughter Tricia Patterson, 49, this Mother’s Day is cause for extra hugs: Both are now University of North Texas at Dallas graduates.

Caldwell, a longtime resident of Oak Cliff and a retired nurse, earned her master’s degree in Clinical Mental Health Counseling, and graduated last December. On Friday, May 17, Patterson, a teacher at Adamson High School (and formerly her alma mater Carter High School) and a motivational speaker committed to improving the lives of low-income adults, will join her mother, receiving the same degree during UNT Dallas’ Spring Commencement at Inspiring Body of Christ Church in southern Dallas.

The tight-knit pair, in all likelihood, would have walked the stage together if not for a terrifying accident in 2016 in which Patterson, a pedestrian, was struck by a vehicle and nearly killed. One semester later, she resumed her studies on the UNT Dallas campus.

“I am a blessed woman, destined with purpose,” Patterson said.

Now their aim is to work as a team. Patterson is in the process of forming the Tree of Life Wellness Institute to provide mental health counseling to residents in southern Dallas; and last summer she founded a nonprofit, Sunshine Advancements, Inc., designed to train and mentor young adults in life and work readiness skills.



“Being an educator, especially at an inner-city school, and particularly at my alma mater, I noticed that challenges students are having at school stem from challenges at home,” Patterson said. “And if I can help their parents, the kids will automatically be better.”

Both women have always pursued life with a purpose. When a young, single mother of two daughters in Indianapolis, Caldwell picked up and moved the family to Dallas in 1975 for an opportunity to attend Bishop College, now known as Paul Quinn College. Caldwell and her daughters lived on the campus, and Caldwell worked as a nurse throughout her undergraduate studies, which included transferring to Dallas Baptist University and graduating with a psychology degree in 1982.

She continued her nursing career in Dallas for a total of 46 years, the last 15 working on the mental health side of the profession.

“One thing we always had was peace at home,” Patterson said. “My mom was a single parent. She had my sister at 15 and me at 20, but our home life was full of love, support and motivation. That’s what makes my mom so special.”

Patterson graduated from Carter High School and earned a marketing degree in 1992 from East Texas State University, now Texas A&M-Commerce. She moved to Atlanta and spent 13 years with Delta as a flight attendant and an instructor of FAA-required flight attendant courses, training more than 20,000 attendants at the airline’s headquarters.

Patterson moved back to Dallas and chose to teach, landing a dream job at her alma mater six years ago. When she chose to pursue her master’s at UNT Dallas, the only four-year university within the city limits, her mother thought about her own missed opportunity to continue her education. This time, Caldwell decided, she wouldn’t let the chance pass her by – even at 66 and retired.

“I was so excited when she told me she was going to go back,” Caldwell said. “I said I can do that. It was like fulfilling a dream. I set out for that goal years and years ago, and now I have the opportunity to complete it.”

Mission accomplished.

Happy Mother’s Day!