She wanted to attend mainstream eighth grade classes. She wanted to earn a standard high school diploma. She wanted to walk across the stage at her college graduation. And—one huge hurdle at a time—Traci Campana ’12 did just that, battling cerebral palsy, epilepsy, autism, and a host of other disabilities to become the 2012 Hamilton Holt School Outstanding Graduating Senior. Beating the discouraging odds predicted for her future by her doctors, the 25-year-old psychology major stepped confidently to the podium on May 12 and addressed the commencement assembly.
“The doctors told my mother that by the time I reached my 20s, I would not be able to walk at all,” she said. “I now stand—yes, stand—in front of you today, having achieved yet another goal I set before myself: speaking to you as the outstanding graduating senior of Rollins College Hamilton Holt School.”
Campana graduated summa cum laude with a 4.0 GPA, but the journey wasn’t easy. “My family worked vigilantly with me daily,” she said, equating her life story with The Little Engine That Could. “Year after year, I would surpass the goal that had been set for me.” By middle school she was attending regular classes; by high school graduation, she was at the top of her class.
But Campana doesn’t consider herself or her struggles unique. “Challenges in life are nondiscriminatory: everyone eventually encounters a challenge or two along their path in life,” she said, acknowledging the diversity of the Holt student body and the fact that many classmates held jobs and raised families while earning their degree. “For many of us, our journey at Rollins was filled with fear—fear that we couldn’t rise to the required academic rigor, fear that it was not the right time to pursue a degree, fear that we wouldn’t fit in. Today is the day to formally rebut all our past fears because today we see that they were only small obstacles on our voyage to success.”
Campana closed her speech by acknowledging the perseverance behind every Holt student’s trip cross the stage that day. “We have achieved what might have seemed unattainable to us. We refused to let hurdles stand in the way.”
In her keynote address, Under Secretary of Education Martha Kanter reiterated Campana’s message of determination by quoting the man for whom the Holt School is named. “As Hamilton Holt said, ‘Nothing worthwhile comes easily. Work, continuous work and hard work, is the only way to accomplish results that last,’” she said.
Using Robert Morrison ’12, a Holt graduate undergoing a bone marrow transplant; Patty Hughes ’12, a working mother receiving her degree at the age of 62; and Campana as examples, Dr. Kanter commended each graduate for conquering personal hurdles on the road to their college diploma.
“Just like Robert, Patty, and Campana—each student receiving a degree today has beaten the odds,” she said. “You’ve mastered whatever stood in the way of your success. You’ve caught the wave of your own tremendous ability to make a difference and excel.
By Renée Anduze