Long Island City, NY—February 4, 2014—In her 23 years, Crystal Cameron has had to face one formidable challenge after another. There was a volatile relationship with her mother; the murder of her father; an unplanned pregnancy at the age 17; and a stint in foster care.
But, instead of allowing these events to defeat her, Crystal took whatever life threw in her way and preserved. She completed high school after giving birth to her daughter and immediately enrolled in LaGuardia Community College where she earned an associate’s degree in Nursing in 2013. She is now working toward on bachelor’s degree in Nursing from Hunter College and living with her six-year-old daughter in an apartment in Rockaway Beach.
Her strong determination and extraordinary accomplishments have not gone unnoticed. New Yorkers for Children recently awarded Crystal its Spirit Award, a $10,000 scholarship that will go toward her education. The annual award goes to a young person in foster care who has demonstrated outstanding leadership skills, a commitment to community and the determination and ability to overcome the barriers to academic success.
“When I look at my life now, I see a rose growing out of concrete,” said a smiling Crystal. “I am grateful for the experiences because they made me a stronger person and I approach life more humbly because I know where I came from.”
Crystal, a native of Jamaica, immigrated to the United States when she was 8-years old. She was a strong student, but during her sophomore high years a deteriorating relationship with her mother took a toll on her grades. No longer able to live in this destructive environment, she went to live with her father. However, two days after moving in with her father, he became a victim of a senseless murder.
With no housing options available to her, Crystal was placed in foster care and moved in with a Jamaican family in Brooklyn. She enjoyed living with a family that shared a similar background to hers, and was getting her life back on track, when she became pregnant.
The pregnancy became a turning point in her life. Instead of looking at it as an insurmountable obstacle, Crystal said, “Everything after my pregnancy became positive.”
Asked why, Crystal pointed to her parents.
“My father always stressed education and I always promised him that I would be a doctor,” said Crystal. “If my dad had seen me then, he would not have been proud of me. There I was pregnant at the age of 17, with no education, nothing.”
“As for my mother, I now had someone to look after and I didn’t want to make the same mistakes she made,” she added. “To do that, I had to get an education and learn what it meant to be a good parent.”
Having a clear goal, Crystal graduated North Queens High School in six months and, following a guidance counselor’s suggestion, in 2009 she enrolled in LaGuardia Community College’s nursing program. While she attended classes, her daughter, Destiny, attended the College’s early childhood program.
During her experience in the highly challenging program, she again was hit with a series of personal challenges. And again she looked to her daughter. “Every time I looked at my daughter, I told myself, ‘you have to do this,’” she said.
She also looked to the nursing faculty who helped her with her academic and personal issues. “The professors were great,” she said. “And if they couldn’t help me they referred me to a counselor who helped me with every chaotic thing that was happening.”
With support and perseverance, Crystal graduated in 2013 and passed the National Council Licensure Examination for Registered Nurses on her first attempt. She just completed her first semester at Hunter College with “very good grades” she said, and plans to graduate in 2015. Then straight to a master’s program.
“I would like to be a nurse practitioner,” said Crystal. But, she would like to couple it with another job that is close to her heart: a motivational speaker who will speak to young women teen pregnancy prevention.
“I want them to understand that it is not just their life that gets harder,” she said, “but also the child who has to face the consequences of their actions.”
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LaGuardia Community College located in Long Island City, Queens, was founded in 1971 as a bold experiment in opening the doors of higher education to all, and we proudly carry forward that legacy today. LaGuardia educates students through over 50 degree, certificate and continuing education programs, providing an inspiring place for students to achieve their dreams. Upon graduation, LaGuardia students’ lives are transformed as family income increases 17%, and students transfer to four-year colleges at three times the national average. Part of the City University of New York (CUNY), LaGuardia is a nationally recognized leader among community colleges for boundary-breaking success educating underserved students. At LaGuardia we imagine new ideas, create new curriculum and pioneer programs to make our community and our country stronger. Visit www.laguardia.edu to learn more.