Student overcomes obstacles to graduate from HCC

Bedke, an honors student, has found success on her own

May 29, 2010|By John-John Williams IV, The Baltimore Sun

Michelle Bedke attended Howard Community College's graduation Thursday with mixed emotions.

The 20-year-old honors student was happy to receive her degree, and she will continue her education at the University of Maryland, College Park, where she will major in linguistics. There was also another feeling, spurred by the fact that she did not have any family in attendance to share in her accomplishment.

"I'm kind of envious of other people," Bedke said Thursday of her fellow graduates. "They had their family here. But it is nice to have made it here myself."

Just three years ago, the international studies major, who is graduating with a 3.6 grade-point average, was in danger of failing out as she combated a series of obstacles that would have made many quit the higher-education process altogether.

Bedke was left alone, weeks after her senior year ended at Wilde Lake High School, when her adoptive parents moved to California without her.

Bedke continued to live in their home alone, without electricity, for weeks before the house sold, forcing her to stay with friends. Bedke thought she had found a solution when she moved in with an ex-boyfriend. But she said he soon became physically and emotionally abusive, which forced her to seek other arrangements.

During this nomadic period in her life, Bedke's grade-point average dropped to 0.75. It landed the honors student in academic probation. She was desperate for help and was near the breaking point.

Maura Dunnigan, an instructor for Howard Community College's Rouse Scholars program, knew something was wrong when she noticed Bedke crying while on a trip back from a retreat for the program for advanced students. The two talked about Bedke's living situation, which led Dunnigan to offer to let her to stay with her family in Ellicott City. Bedke lived there for four months.

"I got the feeling that she didn't have any place to turn," Dunnigan said.

Dunnigan got Bedke into therapy and also helped Bedke declare her independence from her adoptive parents, which allowed Bedke to qualify for Pell grants and other assistance. The financial boost gave Bedke enough money for school and an apartment. Bedke has also continued to work more than 30 hours a week in a cafe for most of her college career.

"She is very independent," Dunnigan said. "She might not have started out that way, but she learned the survival skills to succeed.

"I've seen a huge transformation," Dunnigan said. "She really learned to advocate for herself. She was able to seek out resources on campus. She is so inspirational to other students. What Michelle is juggling in her life, I don't know how she was able to do what she did."

Bedke has also noticed a change.

"I feel like I've been thrown into adulthood," Bedke said. "I've really taken it as a learning experience. I just want to be problem-free when I grow up."

Bedke is looking forward to the next chapter of her education at College Park. In addition to majoring in linguistics, Bedke wants to minor in Chinese. She's taken several Mandarin classes at Howard Community College. Eventually she wants to work for a government agency specializing in international affairs.

"I've never really felt that I accomplished anything," Bedke said. "I'm always seeking improvement. It feels good to be graduating and going to College Park where the bulk of my college career will be. I really want to do more before I consider myself successful."

Bedke was among a record number of students to graduate from Howard Community College on Thursday, according to school officials. This year's 905 students surpassed last year's record-setting 777 graduates.

A combination of tough economic times and a desire for a quality education have led to unprecedented enrollment growth at the college, according to spokeswoman Nancy Santos Gainer.

Bedke is an ideal Howard Community College student, according to Santos Gainer.

"Michelle is a student who has worked hard," Santos Gainer said. "She has really taken her studies seriously. As a Rouse Scholar, she acts as a role model for all students. Her determination and her perseverance has helped her to succeed. She shows [the other students] a sense of what is important."

Dunnigan knows that Bedke will excel in her future endeavors.

"Nothing is going to stop her," she said. "She's one of the most resilient people I've ever met. She's going to find a niche for herself.

"I used to tell her that if you succeed in school, you will be able to write your own ticket," Dunnigan said. "That is what she is doing."

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