Liz Levaro and Lisa Oakley

Mother and Daughter catch an occasional walk in Bald Hill Park with Harpo, who visits nursing homes and hospice patients with Liz.

Mother and Daughter catch an occasional walk in Bald Hill Park with Harpo, who visits nursing homes and hospice patients with Liz.

For Lisa, it was a true case of “mother knows best” that brought her to OSU to do graduate work in international public health. For Liz, her late-life search for meaningful work drew her to the PhD program in human development and family sciences. Mother and daughter are fulfilling their dreams together, and in June of 2009, they will don their black robes and mortarboards and receive their degrees from the College of Health and Human Sciences. “It’s an unusual and gratifying experience to be on ‘equal par’ with Lisa,” says Liz, who plans to work in social gerontology focusing on romantic relationships in late life. Lisa, who spent six months doing volunteer work in HIV/AIDS prevention in Johannesburg, hopes to do research that will lead to real changes in understanding and preventing the disease. “Mom was the one who convinced me that I could combine my interests in sociology, philosophy, and medicine with what I learned about the beautiful people and culture of Africa and pursue a career in public health,” explains Lisa. This year, she will complete an unrequired thesis on the fear and stigma of HIV/AIDS and other infectious diseases to give her a leg up for a PhD program.

“Being in the same college, sharing colleagues and friends, allows us to see each other in a different light,” says Liz, who is using her skills from careers as a psychotherapist, counselor, and head of a publishing company as she plans her future. Liz, 62, and Lisa, 26, agree that when generations mingle — socially, intellectually, and politically — greater compassion and understanding result. They enjoy the company of each other’s friends when they gather for weekly dinners with the Lunatics (relating to the full moon), a group ranging in age from 20 to 60-plus.

When asked to share what they admire about each other, they simultaneously sigh, reach for a tissue, and share a tearful laugh. They hold hands comfortably as Liz speaks proudly of her daughter’s brilliance, beauty, humor, compassion, and grace. “I am so impressed with her work in Africa, the sacrifices she made to go and the young people she helped, and I’ve delighted in watching her blossom at OSU, become a true scholar, and get a fellowship before I did! Oh, and she’s a talented jazz singer, too!” Lisa says her mom is the best role model she could ever have. “I’m just in awe of her strength of character, determination, and her empathy for people. It’s amazing to see her working on her PhD at this point in her life. I admire her so much.”