When Dana Richardson walks across the stage Saturday to receive her diploma, the moment will be bittersweet; a triumph of courage, determination, and heartache for the 40-year old history major.
Richardson, who lives in Moyock, North Carolina, began her journey at College of the Albemarle and transferred to Elizabeth City State University several years ago. She chose ECSU because she is a working mom and the majority of her classes could be completed online, she said.
It had been a lifelong dream of hers to earn a bachelor’s degree, but getting here has been one of the most challenging experiences of her life.
Richardson has a malignant brain tumor. It causes memory lapses and severe headaches that keep her down for days. Her doctors told her she couldn’t finish her degree, but then so did a lot of other people throughout her life.
“I wouldn’t give up,” she said.
Her son, recalls Richardson, encouraged her to finish her degree.
“My son, he said ‘Mom, start going to school,’” she recalled.
But last year, when he was 21-years old, Dana Richardson’s son took his own life. Everything changed for the mother of two and she stopped going to school.
“I said I want to give up,” said Richardson. “I don’t want to do anything.”
However, her history professor, Dr. Chas Reed, kept encouraging Richardson to keep going, to not give up. And, she says, so did a lot of other people at ECSU.
Richardson eventually became involved with mental health issues, volunteering and sharing her story. That fact, coupled with all the encouragement she has received, got her going again.
“It’s been a struggle, but it gives me hope,” she said. “With my personal struggles, not only did I find strength and hope, but even the staff (at ECSU) gave me hope, too, to dig down and achieve my dream.”
Part of Richardson’s dream is to become a teacher, but her brain tumor still poses a challenge. It takes a lot out of her physically and emotionally to fight the cancer and her memory lapses make studying even more challenging. That’s why she will take a semester off before returning to ECSU to become certified to teach.
She says her doctors have told her it’s not a good idea, but Richardson is determined to see this through, and become a teacher. Despite the fact that the tumor will grow, and surgery may be one day necessary, Dana Richardson is not giving up on her dream of an education.
“My doctors don’t like the idea but I want to push myself,” she says.
So despite her challenges, Dana Richardson will walk the stage on Dec. 8, and leave with a diploma in hand. She says that despite the passing of her son, she knew in the end she had to do it for him, and for her 17-year-old daughter who has taken this journey with her the entire way.
“I wanted them to see it could be done,” she said.