Graduate spotlight: Mother and son from the Philippines graduate together

Maydette and Ralph tossing their graduation caps in the air on Hardin Valley Campus
Maydette Ziatdinov and her son, Ralph Panganiban, celebrate their upcoming graduation from Pellissippi State. The two will participate in the college’s Commencement ceremony at 4 p.m. Saturday, May 15.

Meriam Panganiban has her alarm set so that she can be wide awake and glued to the computer at 6 a.m. Sunday, May 16. 

She may be more than 9,000 miles away in Sydney, Australia, but she wouldn’t miss watching her daughter and grandson graduate from Pellissippi State Community College together! 

“My mom is very, very emotional because I promised her I would finish school,” said Maydette Ziatdinov43, who previously worked as a kindergarten teacher in Japan. “I had a lot of fear because this is a new country for me, but I knew something was missing. This is for my husband, my son and my mom – but it’s also for myself, this accomplishment.” 

Maydette, a native of the Philippines, will graduate at 4 p.m. Saturday, May 15, with her associate degree in Business, with a concentration in Management. Her only son, Ralph Panganiban, will graduate during the same Commencement ceremony with his associate degree in Computer Information Technology, with a concentration in Programming. 

Ralph, 22, started Pellissippi State in 2017 after graduating from Bearden High School. He had to take English Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) classes before he could start his core curriculum, having only moved to the United States in 2015, when his stepfather, a scientist, took a job at Oak Ridge National Laboratory. 

“When I went to high school, most of my friends suggested I go here because they have good courses,” Ralph said. “What really impressed me is that all of the services here are free: computer labs, libraries, tutoring center. That was really amazing to me.” 

“The tutoring center is like family to me because I would spend all day at school studying,” Maydette shared. “It’s like my second home.” 

Maydette started her educational journey at Pellissippi State two years after her son, much to his chagrin. 

“My friends would say, ‘Is that your sister?’ and I’d say, ‘No, that’s my mom!” Ralph said, cringing good-naturedly at the memory. 

For me, it was a compliment!” Maydette said, laughing. “I love it!” 

Ralph joked that he “just wanted to run away” when he would see his mom on campus, but then admitted that going to college with a parent had its perks. 

“If I saw her in the cafeteria, she would pay for me!” he said. 

Even though Maydette and Ralph often would carpool to Pellissippi State together, they never were in the same class – although they had some of the same professors. 

“We both loved Dr. Shaquille Marsh’s class and his way of teaching,” Maydette said of Public Speaking. “English is our second language, and we felt nervous about speaking in front of our classmates, but he gave us pointers. He has been one of our best mentors.” 

Maydette and Ralph pose in caps and gowns
Maydette Ziatdinov and her son, Ralph Panganiban, are ready to graduate from Pellissippi State, where they both were involved in organizations such as the International Club.

Both also joined Pellissippi State’s International Club, where Ralph served as president and Maydette handled public relations. The two had a really good time planning the International Culture Festival in fall 2019, where they highlighted the fashion, food and music of Pellissippi State’s international students’ home countries. 

“That was a really big deal for me because I never had been president of a club before,” Ralph said, thanking his mom for her help. 

More recently, Maydette has been interning with Pellissippi State’s Human Resources office and has chosen HR as her next career. 

“I have eight years of good memories as a kindergarten teacher, but I wanted to do something more flexible at this age,” she explained. “I like helping people – that’s just me – and even if it’s a small company, someone has to do the administrative work.” 

Even though the duo now has earned their associate degrees, they plan to stick around Pellissippi State a little while longer to take more classes – Maydette in preparation to transfer to King University for a bachelor’s degree, and Ralph to add a second Computer Information Technology degree, this time with a concentration in Systems Administration and Management.  

“I never complain about the teachers here, but it’s not just them,” Ralph noted. “Everyone from the security guards to the cafeteria workers to Facilities staff – they’ve all been so nice and helpful.” 

His mother agrees, listing Associate Professor Amy Caponetti, Professor Lisa FallInternational Club advisor Patricia Higgins and Access and Diversity Director Gayle Wood among those who have been part of an amazing support system at Pellissippi State. 

“We don’t have a family here in Tennessee, so Pellissippi State is our goto family,” Maydette said. “If I had a picture of myself on my first day of school until now, you would see a totally different Maydette.” 

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