Tarika Green, 35, who had just begun her senior year at Norfolk State, died in September after giving birth to her daughter, Bailey. Her husband, Juan, accepted a certificate of attendance in Tarika’s name at the school’s graduation ceremony.
Juan Green had told himself he didn't want to cry. When it was time to make their way to the stage, Juan shifted his sleepy 7-month-old, Bailey, on his shoulder and rose, along with his older daughter, 12-year-old Jasmine.
The family listened as Norfolk State President Carolyn Meyers spoke: "A member of the Norfolk State family who is no longer with us...."Tarika Green died in September, moments after giving birth to Bailey. She was 35, and had just begun her senior year at Norfolk State.
On Saturday, Tarika was honored at the school's graduation ceremony with a certificate of attendance. Juan knew his wife would have wanted him to somehow complete what she started almost two decades ago. When Tarika got her mind set, he said, she was going to follow through, no matter the cost.
Shortly after enrolling at Norfolk State in 1991, Tarika learned that she had TTP - thrombotic thrombocytopenic purpura, a rare blood disorder. During episodes, Tarika's body would freckle with bruises caused by bleeding into the skin. The TTP also drained her energy. Hospital stays with plasma transfusions could last three days or six months.
But Tarika would get out of the hospital, cover the small plastic catheter in her neck with a scarf, and walk marathons to raise money for a charity, or traipse to cemeteries in Surry County to track down family history. Or take college courses here and there.
"She wore that scarf like a medal of honor," said Tarika's mother, Sandra Allen-Blizzard.
Tarika adored history. When she married Juan in 2006, she picked a 1920s theme and asked guests to dress in zoot suits and flapper dresses. The flower girl tossed feathers, a symbol of Tarika's Native American heritage, instead of petals.
Tarika's love of history led her to a job with The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation, where she and Jasmine, Juan's daughter from a previous marriage, portrayed slaves in plays.
"We sang songs that praised the Lord and that said that you can encourage yourself," Jasmine said before Saturday's ceremony. "We sang stories of love."
Tarika knew becoming pregnant was risky because of her TTP, but it was her goal to have children. Tarika scoured the family tree, which she had traced back to the 1700s, and plucked the name Bailey.
Juan said his wife was determined to finish her senior year. Last Labor Day weekend, while seven months pregnant, she was doing homework. After she typed up her last paper, she stunned her husband by saying: "OK, you can take me to the hospital now."
Doctors ordered an emergency cesarean section. Bailey emerged weighing less than 4 pounds. Juan said that even though Bailey was tiny, she looked just like her mother.
Saturday morning, as Tarika's family approached the stage, the crowd rose in a standing ovation. Meyers hugged Jasmine, and Bailey cooed.