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Catherine Hawkins' Story

Catherine Hawkins  

People used to tell Catherine Hawkins that she couldn’t do many things. And for a long time, she believed them.

Hawkins suffers from severe anxiety. She has had a rough go of it from the very beginning. Her mother committed suicide when Hawkins was eight years old. Her home life was far from ideal. She was diagnosed with severe depression and an emotional disturbance disorder, as well as a learning disability.

“I was raised in a violent household, with screaming and crying all the time,” Hawkins recalled. “I did horribly in high school and slept every single day for the first couple of years from my medication. After high school, I just stayed home because I did not have a job, and my anxiety was so severe I didn’t want to leave the house. I thought colleges were just like high school and I did not want to feel like I was back in high school again because of bad experiences. I was afraid to take math classes and was afraid it would be too hard.”

Hawkins managed to enroll in a local cosmetology school, but was terminated because of anxiety. Social workers and case managers convinced Hawkins that college was not an option for her. Hawkins eventually was encouraged to volunteer at the YMCA Recreational Complex in Carondelet Park, and that’s when her life changed.

“I noticed everyone who worked there was either in school or had just gotten out of school,” Hawkins said. “I was jealous because they had something to look forward to in their life. I told one of my coworkers that I wanted to go to college but I didn’t take the ACT. She said, ‘Why don’t you go to (St. Louis Community College at) Meramec? You don’t have to take the ACT to get in there.’”

Hawkins eventually mustered the courage to go to the campus and apply.

“After the cosmetology school issue, everyone said school would impact me in a bad way. I listened for a couple of years thinking that my disorders took over me, but I didn't want what people thought to affect me,” Hawkins said.

Hawkins found a wealth of resources to help her achieve her dream. The Access office provided accommodations for note taking and exam assistance “because my handwriting is so sloppy and I get distracted easily,” she said.

Hawkins also moved out of her home and into her own place. With help from Meramec’s Student Assistance program, she was able to get groceries from the Brown Bag Café, and financial assistance so she could stay in school. She also spent a lot of time in the Meramec Academic Center to ensure success in the classroom. The Trio program helped her with scholarships and offered workshops for success beyond Meramec.

“I rate these services as five out of five gold stars. I wouldn't have been able to get through school without all of these services,” Hawkins said.

Despite all the odds, Hawkins, now 24, walked across the stage at St. Louis Community College’s Commencement May 22 at Chaifetz Arena and earned her associate degree in human services. She will be attending the University of Missouri-St. Louis to pursue a degree in social work and eventually a doctorate in psychology. Her ultimate goal is to work with children in crisis.

For any naysayers, Hawkins now proudly speaks of success from her personal experiences.

“College is where dreams come true. So my disabilities were my motivation to do well in school,” Hawkins said. “When people said or say I couldn't do it because of who I was, I can say I graduated despite my conditions.”