While graduation is a time to celebrate the accomplishment of earning a degree, diploma or credential, many different paths converge on this special day.
“As each person walks across the stage at graduation, I know there is a story,” said Dr. George D. Edwards, president and CEO of Big Sandy Community and Technical College. “Some of our students face unbelievable circumstances, but press forward to achieve their dreams.”
Cathrine Cassady Howard, 30, of Inez, Ky., always wanted to be a nurse. “I remember telling my mom this when I was four years old,” she recalls.
Her mother, Vanessa Cline Cassady, passed away in August on Howard’s first day of class in BSCTC’s Licensed Practical Nurse (LPN) program.
“I was devastated and lost, but I had to press forward,” Howard said. “My mom was so excited to see my dream come true.”
A single mother of two children, Howard worked on the weekends as a certified nursing assistant at Salyersville Nursing Home. She said it wasn’t easy, juggling her studies with her responsibilities of being a mom and her work.
“When I lost my mom, I lost my support structure,” she said. “She was my rock.”
Times got tough throughout her journey to graduation. Howard said Marsha McKenzie, an LPN instructor on BSCTC’s Mayo campus, picked her up many times, offering words of encouragement.
“Mrs. McKenzie encouraged me and said while it wouldn’t be easy, it would be worth it,” she said.
Amanda Waltz, 31, of Prestonsburg, moved to the region from Michigan. She started nursing school months after a divorce.
The mother of two children (ages six and seven), Waltz pursued her Associate in Applied Science degree in Nursing while working full time at MVP ENT in Prestonsburg as a certified nursing assistant and an audiology technician.
“It was day to day,” said Waltz. “I’d come home, get the kids to bed and study all night. There were many times I didn’t sleep, but getting here was worth it.”
Waltz added that Dr. Mark Veronneau, of MVP ENT, and his wife, Lisa, were very supportive.
“When I got knocked down, they were there to help me get back up,” she said. “I did it and no one stopped me.”
During finals week, Waltz’ mother traveled from Michigan to watch her children as she studied and took her finals. “That was a huge help,” Waltz said.
Dimitri Bien-Aime, 26, is the first student from the Carl D. Perkins Job Corps Center to earn a double major – he graduated with both an Associate of Art and Associate of Science degrees.
“Being a Big Sandy Community and Technical College allowed me the chance to go after my dream,” said Bien-Aime, who is from Florida.
He has already been accepted to the University of Kentucky, but is keeping his options open.
“I want to earn a master’s degree in business and my Ph.D. in chemistry,” he said. “This is the start of a great journey.”