A Commencement Father-Daughter Dance

Forefront Magazine, Fall 2019
Richard Martin and his daughter, Sarah Martin, both 2019 graduates from Case Western Reserve University.

By William Lubinger

Last spring's Commencement was especially busy for the Martin Family. So busy that they made special arrangements.

"We're here for the whole day," said Richard Martin a few days before Commencement. "We boarded the dog for two days because of this gig."

"This gig" is an understated description of an event that acknowledges incredibly hard work and high achievement celebrated by 5,000 Case Western Reserve University graduates, guests and university officials, and the Martin family in particular.

Richard Martin and his daughter Sarah both received their degrees that day. His, a Doctor of Philosophy in Nursing; and Sarah's, a Master of Science in Social Administration with a specialization in school social work from the Jack, Joseph and Morton Mandel School of Applied Social Sciences.

That makes six Case Western Reserve degrees for the Martin family--four alone for Richard (Doctor of Nursing, Master of Business Administration, Doctor of Nursing Practice and now a PhD). Plus there is one each for Siobhan, his wife of 34 years (they met as students at the Frances Payne Bolton School of Nursing in 1983) and a MetroHealth System nurse coordinator, and their daughter Sarah.

Nine, actually, if you count Richard's father, Thomas, who graduated from the former Care Institute of Technology, and Richard's brother, John, who earned his undergraduate and law degrees from the university.

"Ours," said Richard Martin, a Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Future of Nursing Scholar, "is a Case Western Reserve story in multiple chapters."

They wrote a new chapter this year. All graduates and their families and guests convened in the Veale Convocation, Recreation and Athletic Center for the main ceremony before fanning out on campus and elsewhere across University Circle for separate diploma-award ceremonies by school and college.

Sarah Martin and other Mandel School graduates walked across campus and along the Nord Family Greenway to gather at the Maltz Performing Arts Center at 11:45 a.m. Then, at 2:30 p.m., the Martins hustled back to the Veale Center for the graduate studies diploma ceremony, where Richard received his PhD—finally.

You see, he was first awarded admission to the doctoral nursing program at graduation in 1986. But life—and other career opportunities—kept putting that off.

Martin earned an undergraduate degree in psychology from John Carroll University, but maintained an interest in health psychology, and, in particular, how people cope with chronic diseases and aging. He had never considered nursing, but was nudged toward the field by an advisor who knew where nursing and nursing research were going.

Richard Martin continued with a Doctor of Nursing/Doctor of Nursing Practice and Master of Business Administration from the Weatherhead School of Management. Along the way, he served in clinical, research and advocacy roles for frail older adults and their families.

He served in a clinical position in behavioral neurology clinics, managed operations of an Alzheimer’s research center, was a partner in a regional chain of assisted-living facilities, was executive director of Ohio’s largest long-term care advocacy organization and served as a certified financial planner to older clients and their families.

Meanwhile, Sarah Martin is already entrenched in work she loves; the diploma just makes it official. She interned from last August through April this year at Case Elementary (no affiliation with the university) in Cleveland’s St. Clair-Superior neighborhood, working  with about 275 students from about age 3 to 15 (pre-kindergarten through eighth grade). When her supervisor left the school for another position, she was offered the job.

“I could never picture myself doing anything else,” she said, “I get my energy from people, and people deserve someone passionate about what they’re doing because they’re put in very vulnerable situations and they’re forced to trust people. And if it was somebody that didn’t care or wasn’t passionate, that really could be life-changing in a negative way.”
For father and daughter, commencement was life-changing. For one who is just beginning a career; for another, who has found his way back.

“I’ve still got plenty of time left, but I’ve already had a career behind me. A couple of them, and they were good,” said Richard Martin, who described his feelings as “a go-for-a-long-walk moment,” not a throw-a-big-party celebration. “It’s more of a deep sense of gratitude. Sometimes it takes a long time to find yourself, to figure out where you fit and who you are.”