May 15, 2014
Graduating Twins Share a Call to Serve
|Kaitlin and Brittany Ekert
Identical twins Brittany and Kaitlin Ekert will graduate on Saturday with different degrees, but matching goals. The two, who spent their senior year as roommates at Monroe Street Market (the new residential development just off campus), dream of careers in oncology so they can make a difference for patients and families dealing with cancer.
They grew up in Massapequa on Long Island, N.Y. Each played the flute and they both spent their free time volunteering in hospitals.
They did not consciously set out to attend the same college, but when they took the campus tour at Catholic University, “we both knew we had found our choice for college, we felt right at home, and…”
“felt the sense of community, we loved the campus, and the city.”
“and the mission, the commitment to Catholic social teaching.”
“There was definitely a light bulb moment for each of us.”
The Ekerts, who have a habit of finishing each other’s sentences, were so pleased with their campus tour that they applied to be Cardinal Ambassadors their freshman year, and have continued in that role through seven semesters at CUA.
“It was so much fun when we could give tours together. For some reason people get a kick out of twins. So there was always a lot of laughter when we led a tour together,” says Brittany.
“I wish we could bottle up their energy, enthusiasm, and smiles,” says Christine Mica, dean of admissions. “No matter how cold it was outside and no matter how busy they were in their classes, for four years they came prepared and ready to share their love of CUA. Brittany is always positive and can talk to anyone, anywhere, and Katie is always confident and can make everyone feel comfortable.”
“Meeting high school students and their families, we wanted to make them feel comfortable, to listen to them, to answer their questions, to show respect. It’s not that different than what we do every day in our majors, working with patients and clients,” says Brittany.
Brittany will graduate from the School of Nursing with a B.S.N. Kaitlin will receive her B.S.W. from the National Catholic School of Social Service (NCSSS). They are headed to Manhattan, where their parents and younger brother live. Kaitlin will begin graduate work at Columbia University and Brittany is focused on studying for her nursing boards so she can become a registered nurse. They both have their sights set on working at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in Manhattan, where they spent college summers volunteering and interning.
Brittany and Kaitlin entered CUA as nursing students, with a shared desire to serve people in need. During her freshman year, Kaitlin questioned if nursing was the right major for her. “I could see that the material wasn’t connecting with me the same way it was with Brittany. I didn’t even like wearing scrubs,” says Kaitlin. “But I knew I still wanted to help people, to work with families, to connect them to social services.”
In the spring semester of her sophomore year, Kaitlin transferred to NCSSS. “It was a big decision and absolutely the right decision for me. And it was helpful that I had my sister by my side to support me.”
While they were both nursing students, they had applied for a community health clinical program in Belize and were accepted. When Kaitlin changed her major to social work, the nursing program invited her to come with the group anyway and found her a field placement at an orphanage.
Brittany spent her time at a birthing center. She remembers one mother in particular who she was with throughout a long, difficult labor in a very primitive health care setting. “It was the first time I helped with a live birth. It was so exciting and emotional.” In gratitude, the mother named her baby girl Brittany.
The Ekert twins have countless stories from their many social work field placements and nursing clinical rotations in the D.C. area and abroad. While working in Limerick, Ireland, Kaitlin assisted a young mother who was poor and the victim of domestic violence. “She told me her greatest wish was for her little boy to be well nourished. I helped her get services and make a plan to ensure her safety and to help her provide for her son. She told me she was so grateful. People will tell you how you helped them, but really they change you.”
Throughout their work in different locations and with different clients and patients, they have both been touched by those who are battling cancer. “It can be so frightening for patients and their families. The treatment options are so overwhelming and often grueling and painful. We feel a calling to work with this patient population, with a dedication to a whole-person approach and dignity of the patient,” says Brittany.
“And family-centered care,” adds Kaitlin. “It’s so important to understand how a serious illness affects the whole family.”
The Ekerts in Belize.
The Ekerts agree that their interest in service careers is best explained as a “calling from God.” They also acknowledge the influence of their upbringing. Their mother, an English teacher who later stayed home to raise her children, and their father, a banking executive, provided a privileged upbringing, but always emphasized “the importance of hard work, and the need to respect, understand, and serve others,” says Brittany.
During their 5th and 6th grade years, the Ekert twins lived in London with their family and attended an international school. “That experience has had a lasting effect on us. We traveled to so many countries and our parents made sure to expose us to different cultures and economic diversity,” says Kaitlin.
Both Kaitlin and Brittany point to an experience they had while visiting Egypt that has continued to guide their dedication to nursing and social work.
“We had a tour guide, Shahat, who we really connected with and he invited our family to his home for dinner. We said ‘yes’ without thinking it through. But when our cab pulled up to his apartment building, we all immediately felt uncomfortable. The surroundings were very impoverished,” explains Kaitlin.
“So our father went in to the apartment by himself to check things out and within minutes was at the window waving us in. They were Muslim so according to their custom, the males went to one room and we stayed in the kitchen with Shahat’s wife who was pregnant and did not speak English, but somehow we communicated. By the end of the night we were all in one room and Shahat shared with us a poem he wrote for his unborn child,” says Brittany.
“We realized that everyone, no matter where they live or what culture or religion they follow or their economic status has the same hopes and dreams for their families. That understanding has stayed with us. We’ll never forget them,” says Kaitlin.
“And I hope they’ve never forgotten us,” adds Brittany.
On Saturday, Kaitlin will join the social work honor society, Phi Alpha. Brittany, president of her nursing class, addressed her classmates at their pinning ceremony earlier this week.
A large contingent of family and friends will be on hand to see the sisters graduate, and Kaitlin and Brittany are especially happy they will get to see each other receive their diplomas.
The nursing school’s diploma ceremony immediately follows CUA’s main Commencement ceremony, while NCSSS’s diploma ceremony is later at 2 p.m.
The identical twins will each have their own moment of achievement, before they celebrate together.