The past year has been a challenging one for so many people, including 2021 Laurel Ridge graduate Donna Kelley. The newly-minted registered nurse overcame significant hurdles with grit and grace, garnering accolades along the way.
Kelley was the recipient of both this year’s Grisdale Family Veterans Fund Award for Outstanding Veteran Student and the Outstanding Nursing Graduate award. In addition to her associate degree in nursing, she received a degree in forensic science. The Grisdale Award comes with a $500 gift.
“The Grisdale family was impressed by not only Donna’s educational focus towards nursing and forensic science, but also by her military background and glowing reviews by her professors,” said Laurel Ridge development officer Andy Gyurisin. “This review really stood out, ‘Donna has maintained a 4.0 GPA, and has shown determination and fortitude in her pursuit of excellence, all while juggling full-time employment, being a single parent to three children and overcoming the long-lasting effects of Covid-19.
“‘She is a leader and support to her peers in the classroom. Her lengthy experience as an LPN is evident in her critical thinking skills and judgment.’”
It was while serving in the U.S. Army Reserve from 1996 to 2004 that Kelley received combat medic training and worked as a licensed practical nurse in the oncology unit at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center.
Following a divorce, Kelley wanted to wait until her children, 19-year-old Aidan, 16-year-old Avery and 10-year-old Kieran, were a bit older before returning to school to pursue her dream of becoming a nurse practitioner. She enrolled at Laurel Ridge in 2015, but due to full-time work, couldn’t consistently attend until she entered the LPN-to-RN transition program.
While at the college, Kelley received several Laurel Ridge Foundation scholarships, including the Teresa Evans Callahan Scholarship and the Monford D. and Lucy L. Custer Endowed Nursing Scholarship. Additionally, she was chosen for the Dominion Fellowship through the Virginia Foundation for Community College Education. She said the fellowship paid for the past academic year’s tuition, and came with a community service component.
This past October, Kelley contracted Covid and was unable to return to her job at Blue Ridge Hospice for two months.
“It wiped me out,” she said.
This was followed by a case of shingles. Kelley considers herself fortunate for being able to complete Laurel Ridge’s highly-regarded nursing program while facing these health setbacks. She credits her professors for supporting her throughout this ordeal.
“I wanted to give up many times,” Kelley said. “Dr. LaDonna Williams gave me lots of pep talks and she said, ‘You’re not quitting.’ All of the professors are great.”
Besides the awards she received at graduation, Kelley was also proud to graduate alongside her son Aidan, who got a leg up on his college career by dual enrolling while he was a Millbrook High School student. He’s transferring to George Mason University this fall to major in film studies.
Both mother and son were members of Phi Theta Kappa, a national honor society for two-year colleges.
Kelley still has her sights on becoming a nurse practitioner. After taking some time off from her studies, she plans to enroll at Shenandoah University to get her bachelor’s and graduate degrees.
“Their program is great for a working mom,” Kelley said. “Right now, I just feel like my kids need me.”
Learn more about Laurel Ridge’s nursing program at www.laurelridge.edu/nursing.