Welcome, fellow graduates. Thank you to the staff, families, and friends that have joined us today to celebrate the Class of 2021. I am truly honored to be here in front of you all today.
The past few years have been anything but ordinary. With a global pandemic came casualty, chaos, fear, and change. We continued our education online - at home - throughout the quarantine. Each day was truly a learning experience for both students and their teachers. However, we adapted, and today is the day it all pays off.
I couldn't be more proud of each and every one of you for making it here today. And although we all ended up here, our stories, along with the struggle we faced along the way, are what truly make each and every one of us unique.
My name is Bailee Winchell, and this is my story. For the past 19 years, I have suffered from extreme, chronic, daily migraines. Migraines that would hospitalize me and make me miss at least a few classes a day.
We spent the majority of my childhood in and out of hospitals, doctors, and specialists. But in the end, no one had any answers, so I was left to suffer. As I got older, we tried more treatments, including acupuncture, physical therapy, chiropractors, occipital nerve blocks, Cortisone shots, and medication. But nothing ever seemed to touch my migraines, leaving doctors stumped. On top of my migraines, in third grade, I was diagnosed with PANDAS (Pediatric Autoimmune Neuropsychiatric Disorder Associated with Streptococcal Infections), which is caused by interacting medication from H1N//influenza and strep meds at a young age. This disorder stops the serotonin (happy hormone) receptor in your brain, meaning you need regulatory medication for life.
By the time senior year came, I had finally gotten a hold on my mental health as well as learned how to live through constant pain. I was dual-enrolled here at ECC in the nursing tech prep program, where I received my CNA and completed all but one of my required classes for the nursing degree. At this time, it truly seemed like things were going to finally get easier.
That same year, my parents, who had been married 30 years, divorced. It was that moment when I lost hold of myself and my mental health. I felt like I wasn't enough for my parents, and I fell into a dark place. Then, on December 29, 2019, my life was almost taken from me. A lady disobeyed her red left turn arrow and pulled right out in front of me in the middle of the intersection. I hit her at 60mph, and her car flipped over mine. I remember it all so vividly, the foot of space between my 60mph car and her dead stopped vehicle. I saw my life flash before my eyes; there was no time to stop and nowhere to go; all I could do was hold on and pray.
The ambulance and firefighters helped get me out of the car and into an ambulance to go to the ER. The doctors found six bulging herniated disks, traumatic jaw injury, bruised ribs, whiplash, spinal stenosis, and posttraumatic migraines. I wore a neck brace for three months and a back brace for the past two years. I also have a tremor and limited feeling in my hands from the impact.
To be honest, for a good few months, I was ready to give up, knowing the extensive care I now require on a daily basis. But I also have always been determined to prove everyone wrong, especially myself. I needed to make something of myself and contribute to society in some meaningful way. So instead of finishing my physically demanding nursing degree that I had worked so hard for, I chose to study to become a teacher - that way, I can inspire young minds and possibly spark an interest for some future healthcare workers.
I was determined to prove everyone wrong, just like I have with each diagnosis I've gotten. I wanted to show my family and the world that what you conquer can change you, shape you, and scare you, but in no way does it define you.
I know I am not the only one here today with an untold story, but I am merely here to show how much college students must check at the door to be academically successful. We showed up, did the work, and achieved our goals - Congratulations!
If you have an untold story or something that made getting your degree harder, know you are not alone. Feel proud of this accomplishment, both academically and personally. Because each and every one of you deserves to be here today, and we are so proud of you.
A huge thank you to all of ECC, the teachers, and the students who have made getting our degrees possible. Whether it's more schooling, going into the service, or entering the workforce, I wish you all the best of luck in your future endeavors, and I appreciate being selected to share my story with all of you.
Once again, thank you and congratulations to ECC's Class of 2021!
Bailee Winchell '21
Associate in Arts