Pachia Thao (‘22) only knows one way to care for people; all-in, whenever and however she is able. Perhaps that is why this busy mom, child of refugee parents, and soon-to-be nursing graduate hopes to someday return to her first love: hospice care.


Editor’s note: This is one in a series of stories highlighting a few Concordia’s uncommon May 2022 graduates. Faculty and staff submit candidates for consideration. Stories are posted in the days leading up to commencement. View more uncommon graduates here.

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As a member of the “sandwich generation,” Thao, who is Hmong and bi-lingual, is used to juggling. In between raising her son, caring for her parents, and holding down a full-time job in a home care agency, she is finishing the BSN Completion program for RNs at Concordia University Wisconsin.

“I am who I am today because of my life experiences,” explained Thao. “My parents did the best they could for my siblings and me. They worked hard to give me the American dream.”

For Thao, that American dream is about to become a reality.  As she explains:

“My mom’s dream was to be a nurse. She attempted to get into nursing school but eventually prioritized her family before her education. I remember my mom would put us kids to bed and study late into the night. My mom’s dream became my dream and now I hold the title of Nurse for her. My mom is my everything.”

Thao and her husband and their 16-year-old son Max, and their extended families all live in Green Bay, Wisconsin. In the Hmong culture, it is common for couples to marry at a young age. Thao and her husband married at 16 and became parents when they were just 17-years-old.

“Because my parents struggled with their education, it was hard for them to help my siblings and me in our academics,” said Thao. “I struggled a lot in school and always felt behind in my education and felt stupid most of the time.”

After completing the Associate Degree in Nursing (ADN) program at the area technical school, Thao enrolled in Concordia’s BSN program through the university’s Accelerated Learning Center in Green Bay where she took classes online. Far from struggling, Thao thrived in the program and was invited to join an honor society, Sigma Theta Tau International Honor Society of Nursing. Her mix of life experience, grit, and skill attracted the attention of academic leaders.

According to Carol Lueders Bolwerk, Ph.D., Program Director – Parish Nurse and Congregational Ministry, “Pachia’s story is fascinating because she beat the odds. She has walked a tight rope in the sandwich generation, she has been challenged by traditional and western cultural beliefs, and she relies on God in mind, body, and spirit.”

Thao hopes that this milestone will change the economic and education landscape for her family for generations to come.

“When I became a mom, I knew I never wanted my child to struggle with learning,” said Thao. “So I read to him constantly and started teaching him at a young age. I am proud to say that my son is academically gifted, meaning he excels in learning and his education.”

For now, Thao will continue where she is most needed, which is serving low socioeconomic families in a home care agency in her community. She has worked in hospice prior to this and looks forward to returning to end-of-life care.

As she prepares to graduate, Thao offers a few more words of reflection.

“My Concordia journey has been amazing and one I’ll never forget. From the admissions process to graduation, I have always felt supported and guided by the staff and instructors,” says Thao. “CUW truly values student success.”

Thao’s final words:

“God led me to Concordia and I will always cherish the relationships I have made.”

— Lisa Liljegren is assistant vice president of strategic communications within the Office of Strategy and University Affairs.

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