Earlier this week we held Dessert-a-rama — our first ChattState Foundation Annual Fund impact event for donors. Our 2013-14 Annual Fund Chair and Foundation Board member extraordinaire Edna Varner thanked our donors for their terrific support this year! The ice cream social (with ice cream donated by Blue Bell!) featured two scholarship recipients, Karlie Zimmerman and Calvin Robinson, and two faculty members, Erica Lux and Casey Neal. They each spoke briefly about their inspiring experiences as beneficiaries of the Annual Fund this year.
Berry Scholar Karlie Zimmerman thanked the donors for their scholarship support which makes it possible for her to be both a student and a mom. She then delivered the following award-winning speech that earned her Outstanding Student of the Year:
My name is Karlie Zimmerman and I am 33 years old and currently enrolled in the Medical Assisting program at The Tennessee College of Applied Technology (TCAT) at Chattanooga [State]. I am so honored to be here with you all today and am excited to tell you a little bit about what brought me here, and what technical education means to me!
In 2003 I graduated from Chattanooga State with my Applied Science degree. I had no sense of direction or passion and did nothing with it. Through the years I maintained different jobs in the restaurant industry, although I enjoyed it immensely, I knew this would not be the path I wished to follow for the rest of my life.
In January of 2012 after an amazing pregnancy, I went in to the hospital to have my daughter. Following some severe complications, I went into respiratory and cardiac arrest. I was without oxygen for 14 minutes and was shocked 6 times. In the normal case medical staff stops working on you after ten minutes, so why they continued to work on me is something I will never understand but will be forever grateful for. After I regained a heartbeat, they got my baby out through an emergency c-section. Through many tears and prayers from my family and friends and amazing work from a team of doctors and nurses my daughter Mackenzie and I were saved that day! I was diagnosed with a severe brain injury and life would never be the same. Or so I–and everyone involved–thought. After ten days at the hospital, we headed home and began the long road to recovery. Life was frustrating and almost at times, unmanageable. I couldn’t remember where anything in my house was, I wasn’t the same outgoing and fun person I once was, and above all else, I didn’t even know my baby. I had no recollection of giving birth to her and this was a memory I would never regain. I went through a period of denial and anger, and then fell into a deep depression. When the world labels you, its very easy to sit by quietly and simply act the part. I was “the girl with the brain injury” and was content to just watch life pass me by. I mean, what else could I really do, right?
Have you ever just said to yourself, “This can’t be all there is, right? Life has to be more than this! I have to be more than this!” Well, I began to say these very things to myself, and that undying urge to find my direction and passion in life, came back. I remember driving down the road and seeing a sign for Chattanooga State and decided that very day to head over to the college and just see what it had to offer. All the while, that voice in the back of head saying, “Karlie, you cannot do this! Your brain doesn’t work the same, you won’t be able to learn or achieve anything!” Well, anyone who knows me, knows I am stubborn, and someone telling I can’t just drives me all the more. When I discovered the technology programs that TCAT had available I was immediately excited! To see that there were so many options and it was affordable and I could earn a degree in a year; these were all definite signs that this was something I could and would do. Having dealt with a serious medical problem and being touched by so many people in the profession, I knew that I wanted to pursue a career in healthcare. I want to help people; I want to make an impact on their lives, even if it is just a fraction of what was done for me.
In May of 2012 I was invited to be the guest speaker for the American Heart Association at their annual Go Red for Women Luncheon. When approached with this, that nagging voice came back again. “You can’t do this, you are the girl with a brain injury, what could you possibly have to say?” Well, through much support and lots of practice, I stepped out on the stage that day and gave my speech to a crowd of 500+ people. Was I scared? Yes. Did I make mistakes? Yes. But did I do it? Yes. And most importantly did I make an impact? And the answer is yes! That day, my life changed. I began to believe in myself again. I had a sense of empowerment that I had never experienced before. I am blessed to be a volunteer at my local Heart House and an active participant in the events that they have. I also work closely with the Children’s Miracle Network at Erlanger. What a joy it is to have a voice again.
When classes began in August of this last year, all my fears resurfaced. I had fleeting thoughts of failure and almost backed out. I am thrilled to say that that first day was the beginning of the rest of life. I have become a leader in and out of the classroom. I am the president of my class and an active member of Phi Theta Kappa Honor Society.
One of the many things I love about technical education is the opportunity of hands on learning. It is so exciting to study something in a book and that actually put it into practice. We are constantly learning new skills and I know that I will step out into the workforce completely prepared, thanks to TCAT Chattanooga. The first test we took was another day that I dreaded and feared. I aced that test, and it was not the grade that brought me the most joy. I knew then that I had retrained my brain to learn like it used to or possibly even better. I knew that I was going to be able to complete this program. I strive to be at the top of my class, to do my best and inspire others. I am an older student, a single mother and have overcome a serious medical diagnosis. If I can do it, anyone can. I am honored to have been selected as the Outstanding Student of the Year of TCAT Chattanooga, and if my story can drive others to push through adversity and pursue their dreams, that’s amazing!
Our Governor, Bill Haslam, has allocated 16.5 million dollars of its annual budget this year to go for grants in technical education. That is so wonderful and something that truly hits home in my life. I believe that I attend a wonderful school with outstanding professors who truly care about my future and the success that having this degree will bring. Its through monies such as these, that our programs are funded, equipment is of the highest level, and bottom line Tennessee benefits by having more residents who have furthered their education.
So, TCAT has given me the greatest gift. A hole in my life is being filled. It has given me that sense of direction that I have been searching for and driven my passion to the fullest. I am excited every day in class to see what is next. Now, the possibilities are endless! I have confidence again, I know I can do this. And its all thanks to technical education. Thank you for your time and for allowing me to share my story with each of you!
Thanks so much for an incredible school year and successful 2013-14 Annual Fund drive. We are so grateful for our donors who help support the amazing students and faculty at Chattanooga State!