NORFOLK, Va. (WAVY) — Ciara Jenkins has so much to celebrate.

The new mother and Isle of Wight native will graduate from Eastern Virginia Medical School this weekend.

But when she looks out into the crowd, she will be missing a very special person.

“You know, ’cause my dreams were his dreams. Like, he was my biggest supporter,” she said about her father, Mason Clark.

Clark is the one who planted the seed in a young Ciara.

“I just remember him saying, like, ‘You should really consider a career in medicine, you’ll always have job security,'” she said.

He nurtured her growth.

“He was my person. We just had a fantastic relationship. I was always wanting to be next to him. If there was a seat at the table, I wanted to be next to my dad,” Jenkins said.

She stayed close to her father and to home, choosing Old Dominion University in Norfolk for undergraduate school.

Clark started getting sick that summer before she left.

“He had a long history of ulcerative colitis, so we assumed it was another flare up and then of course we get this big news,” Jenkins said.

The news was devastating: colon cancer. Jenkins’ growing knowledge of medicine allowed her to nurture him.

“I was really able to like decode some of the language for my parents and sort of be that advocate,” she said.

Clark got better, enough to dance at her wedding and brag about her getting into Eastern Virginia Medical School. A few months later, though, the cancer came back.

“I was actually sitting in the lounge here doing my master’s program when he called me and he told me he had made the decision to stop taking chemotherapy ’cause it was just so hard on him,” Jenkins recalled.

Jenkins believes the experience with her father’s illness will make her a better doctor. Knowing what it’s like to be on the other side of the white coat, she said, will influence how she talks to and relates with patients and their families.

Clark died the same week Jenkins was accepted into the EVMS medical program.

“It’s rough but it’s still special. I hold his memory very dear,” she said.

Jenkins will hold Clark’s picture as she accepts her diploma Saturday at Scope Arena; keeping him close to her heart where he will live forever.