College will change your life. There’s a hackneyed phrase if ever there was one, but for CCV grads this year, there’s real truth behind that thought.
“The people at CCV gave me my life back, they gave me my identity back and there are no words of gratitude or actions that can be taken to make up for that,” said Ashlee Brady-Kelly. “I definitely plan to come back and visit and to help in any way I can.”
CCV’s 48th Commencement Ceremony
Saturday, June 6, 2015 2:00 p.m.
Norwich University‘s Shapiro Field House
158 Harmon Drive
Northfield, VT 05663
Brady-Kelly, who has been chosen as the class of 2015 student speaker, will be joined by over 500 of her fellow students who are receiving associate degrees at the College’s 48th commencement ceremony being held on the Norwich University campus on Saturday. Seven Days multimedia producer and the creator of “Stuck In Vermont” Eva Sollberger will deliver the commencement address and students will also be congratulated by Vermont’s Lieutenant Governor Phil Scott during the ceremony.
Change has been a constant in Brady-Kelly’s life. She grew up in Bermuda but spent much time travelling between the island and the United States to receive medical care for two conditions she was diagnosed with as a child: cerebral palsy and hydrocephalus, or, water on the brain. Having family in Barre meant that the 23-year-old Brady-Kelly had a home in the Green Mountain State, and after beginning her college studies at Bermuda College she decided Vermont, and CCV, would be a better place for her.
During the year and a half she attended Bermuda College Brady-Kelly said she underwent 15 surgeries to help her with her medical conditions. Due to the medical trauma and ongoing challenges she says she lost sight of who she was, felt isolated and needed a change. As someone who thrives on tight-knit community and the sense of closeness fostered in such environments, she said she decided to return to her grandparents’ home in Vermont and enroll in the small community college located one town over. That was in 2012, and it made all the difference.
“My biggest challenges were remembering who I was and then continuing to grow and thrive from that point,” she said. “And that’s why I have such an emotional attachment to CCV because that’s what they expected of me and what they promoted. I am very thankful that CCV nurtured the woman that I was destined to become, the woman that I wanted to become but was afraid to.”
Brady-Kelly says that as a disabled person she’s often struggled in a world that’s not always suited to helping people with disabilities. However, at CCV, she said, she found a community of diverse people in which she fit in and one capable of providing the support she needed to be successful. This Saturday, she will address an audience of roughly four thousand and will leave the stage with a degree in liberal studies. She plans to pursue a bachelor degree and hopes one day to work for the state helping others overcome their challenges.
Wayne Miller, an Upper Valley student who will also graduate with a degree in human services, credits CCV for the 180 degree change his life has taken since enrolling. A Connecticut native who moved to the White River Junction area when he was 11, Miller dropped out of high school freshman year when he developed a problem with drugs and alcohol. What followed was a decade of kicking around town and abusing substances.
“I was just hanging around with friends,” he said. “All of my attention was put towards partying and socializing. I had given up on any goals I had at that point.”
Even during that time Miller said there was an ebb and flow to his thoughts that would continually return him to the idea that he should be doing something more with his life. In 2008, he went with the flow and earned his GED, but the momentum foundered as he slipped back into past patterns. Then in 2012 he decided he could get some financial aid money if he applied to CCV and attended some classes. Still enmeshed in the drug culture, Miller showed up for his first courses terrified, convinced that people would learn of his addictions. In those first weeks he came close to dropping out again. Then things began to change.
“The main shift started to happen the first semester when I took Dimensions of Freedom and Intro to Substance Abuse,” Miller said. “The only reason I got into the substance abuse class was kismet. I was supposed to take a book arts class and it was cancelled…so I was like, ‘Oh I’ll take the substance abuse class because that will be easy for me.”
The dimensions class taught him critical thinking skills and allowed him the opportunity to analyze the world and learn new ideas. More importantly, he found a place that he fit in.
“I was just like ‘Wow, this is where I am supposed to be, everybody cares about things here, the conversations aren’t just about pop culture and where the next party is going to be,’” he said.
But it was an assignment for the latter class that cemented the transformation. Miller was asked to attend a twelve step program and write a paper on the experience. He went to one meeting, then faked the paper because as an addict, he worried he’d be found out by meeting goers. Then the guilt set in, and Miller couldn’t take it. So, he fessed up. His instructor responded in the best way possible, striking a deal with him that if he went back to the program and did the work, she wouldn’t fail him.
“So I went. And through hearing people’s stories, that’s what really turned the light bulb on for me,” Miller said. “Kind of like in the dimensions class, I realized that I wasn’t the only one like this and that I was trying to fill some sort of void or need, that’s when it started to shift for me.”
Three years later, Miller is atoning for his past by volunteering at shelters and assisting Upper Valley organizations with substance abuse treatment and counseling, all of which has earned him the 2015 Student Community Service Award. He’s remained clean since his instructor made the deal with him and he plans on attending Springfield College’s School of Human Services so that he can become a licensed substance abuse counselor.
This Saturday, both Brady-Kelly and Miller will finish up their time at CCV having changed for the better. As for a message to her classmates, Brady-Kelly says there’s one that has inspired her all along:
“I learned in high school a quote and I’m not sure it’s from, unfortunately, but it speaks to everything I am and everything I believe,” she said. “The quote reads, ‘obstacles are inevitable, defeat is optional.’”