Sister to walk at commencement for student’s posthumous degree

December 9, 2016 | Jim Townsend

posthoumous degree
Teshawna Wright (right) walked across the stage during UHCL’s noon commencement ceremony on Sunday on behalf of her sister, Dawn Helmen, who died in October after fulfilling the requirements to receive her Bachelor of Science degree from UHCL’s College of Education. Wright held Dawn’s high school graduation picture as she crossed the stage. Pictured with Wright is Helmen’s mother, Joan, who with several other family members, attended the ceremony.

Teshawna Wright has some big shoes to fill, but she is looking forward to the challenge. Sunday she accepts a posthumous degree on behalf of her sister, Dawn Helmen, during the noon commencement ceremony for University of Houston-Clear Lake Sunday, Dec. 11, at NRG Arena in Houston.

In October, at the age of 48, Helmen suffered a stroke and died. Having completed all the requirements for a Bachelor of Science in the College of Education, the university is awarding her degree posthumously. Wright will accept the degree in her behalf with family in attendance.

“Dawn was like a second mom to us kids,” said Wright, of her sister who was the oldest of eight. “ “She had no children of her own.”“She was a beautician for many, many years,” Wright added. “But she always had it in mind to pursue teaching. We were so proud of her and what she did.”

Dawn had a “knack for languages,” her mother, Joan Helmen, explained. Dawn was born in Nebraska but spent her early years in Aruba – an island nation in the Dutch Caribbean. When her family resettled in the United States, she retained her Dutch fluency and absorbed Spanish in high school.

“We told her that with her ability she could be a bilingual-education teacher. But she chose beauty school instead,” Joan said.

Eventually, Dawn’s love of languages impelled her toward teaching. She felt a calling to become an English as a second-language teacher, her mother said. She earned a two-year degree at College of the Mainland and transferred to UHCL to complete her bachelor’s degree.

Joan, an intensive-care unit nurse, said her daughter suffered from hypertension. She recalled their last telephone conversation.

“I knew when I picked up the phone that something was wrong. She said, ‘Mom, I think I’m having a stroke.’ I told her, ‘Call 911. I’ll be right over. When I arrived the ambulance was there and they were trying to resuscitate her.”

Dawn died three days later without regaining consciousness.

“A mother should never have to bury her daughter,” Joan said.

“I can think of no better way to honor my sister than accepting the degree she wanted so badly,” added Wright.

Wright will receive her sister’s degree along with more than 520 other graduates of the College of Education and College of Science and Engineering in Sunday’s noon ceremony. At 5 p.m., nearly 650 students will graduate from the College of Business and the College of Human Sciences and Humanities.


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