It’s graduation season! Many college graduates across the country are celebrating their accomplishments as they close one chapter and embark on a new journey in their lives. Bishop State is filled with stories of its students and their journey to overcome hardships to succeed. Each graduate has his or her own story. A story of strength, perseverance, willpower, focus, and determination. This story is about one of our students and how Bishop State has helped her start… again.
Sophomore Kearria Freed will be graduating from Bishop State Community College on May 21 and will receive her associate degree in general education. But her story does not start here. As a matter of fact, Bishop State is not where she started her college career.
Kearria began college in 2013 as a freshman at Alabama A&M in Huntsville, Alabama where she was a food science major. Fast forward to March of 2015, a then 20-year-old Kearria and four of her friends decided to travel down to Panama City Beach for spring break. One night they decided to go to a house party, a decision that would change their lives forever.
“I don’t remember that night,” says Kearria. “What I do remember is I got the text message about the house party. When we got to the house, I guess we were a little early because there were maybe five people inside. And I told my friends, ‘Come on, let’s go y’all. No one is here.’ But they were like ‘Nooo. We are here to party. This is spring break, you know. Let’s stay.’ And that’s as much as I remember from myself and what I know.”
What Kearria does not remember is that night a man started shooting at that house party. He shot seven people including Kearria and three of her friends. Kearria was shot in her right temple lobe. The doctors had to remove that portion of her brain.
“During my surgery, I had a stroke which left the left side of my body completely paralyzed. I couldn’t walk for two years. I couldn’t talk for five months. They had to rebuild the whole right side of my skull. My cheek was split. I have a plate in my cheek. My ear was unattached. They had to reattach it. I couldn’t hear much. I just had surgery in December on my ear because I couldn’t hear out of it. The right side of my face is partially paralyzed. It was completely paralyzed. My right eye doesn’t blink. There is still shrapnel in it and it’s partially sewn shut.
Kearria says it was only through lots of therapy, hard work, faith, and prayers that she was able to recover. But she had to. She still had goals she wanted to achieve.
“My goal was the whole time, I wanted to go back to school. I knew I didn’t want to go back to A&M right away because I still needed a lot of assistance.”
Kearria was out of school for two years following the shooting. During that time she had to re-learn how to walk and talk and regain her sense of independence. She moved from Huntsville back home to Mobile to live with her parents because she needed their assistance as she recovered. But in 2017, Kearria enrolled at Bishop State, the place where she felt she could start again.
“Once I got to Bishop, I had to take it slow because I couldn’t go full force because I have a traumatic brain injury now,” Kearria says. “So I took it slow. I started off with one class my first semester here. Then the second semester, I took two classes. And then each semester I just built up to three classes and now I’m taking four. I’ll be done. [This] week I’m graduating!”
“Bishop State helped me gain my sense of independence because I had to be responsible for myself in school. It kind of gave me a piece of myself back because I was in school previously and I had to start over again.”
Kearria just got a new addition to her family. After waiting two and a half years, Kearria has received her service dog, Darling, a
Labrador Retriever/Golden Retriever mix. Kearria has had Darling for one week now and says she was well worth the wait.
“I was in Orlando, Florida for two weeks getting trained for my service dog. She knows up to 40 commands. She knows how to turn the lights on and off, open and close the doors, pick up things off the ground when I drop them and she gives them to me, close drawers. She can do a lot. I can teach her even more stuff. She is really smart and sweet.”
Darling was home just in time to go with Kearria to class to take her final exams. Good news: they both passed their finals!
After graduation, Kearria will attend the University of South Alabama where she will major in psychology. She then plans to get her master’s degree in rehabilitation counseling, much different from her food science degree she was working on before the shooting.
“[This incident] really shed a light on people with disabilities for me because no one in my family is disabled. Elderly? Yes, but not disabled. This impacted me at such a young age. I want to be a resource for people of all ages with disabilities and help them get back into the community, get back to school, get back to driving, and living a more independent life because I know how important independence is. I’ve been there. I’m still there.”
When Kearria is not in school, she is active in her church youth group and praise dance team. She enjoys being with her family and spending time with them. She plans to continue using her experience to better her own life and the lives of others around her.
“That’s my purpose. God left me here for a reason.”