Doug Ernst

Napa Valley Register columnist Doug Ernst.

Napa native AnnaBelle Armitage shared her remarkable story in a valedictory speech at Thursday’s Napa Valley College commencement, capturing the essence of how a community college helps people find purpose.

“I grew up with a plethora of medical problems, had hundreds of doctor appointments and numerous surgeries,” she told the Class of 2018.

AnneBelle was born with various muscle conditions, a cleft palate and deafness. Although her hearing was restored at three months, she had carpal tunnel issues at age 5.

After several major surgeries and bone grafts, and after being home-schooled (her mother is a teacher) she felt ready for college at age 16.

“I had noticed how the medical field runs, with the numbers of patients needing help,” she said in an interview.

“Working with so many nurses and doctors, I got to know them, and I wanted to get educated to affect peoples’ lives.”

So she enrolled in health-related classes at Napa Valley College.

“I was nervous, unsure of myself, and I felt like a baby compared to everyone else,” she told her fellow graduates.

“But over three-and-a-half years at this beautiful school, I learned more about myself, my passions and my goals. I learned how valuable and precious education is, and how incredibly confusing college can be, sometimes.”

However, with the help of campus clubs, she connected with other students.

With the support of her family she was able to save money.

With the help of the community, she was able to help others.

“Volunteering at NVC during the October fire disaster gave me the opportunity to give to my community, and NVC itself gave me the opportunity to further my college career while still in my hometown,” she said.

She credited the college faculty and staff, “for not only creating an environment of learning, but also for being such truly caring and encouraging individuals who uplift us students and keep our heads above water when we feel we don’t know what in the world we’re doing.”

And, with the help of NVC counselors, she earned an associate degree in natural sciences and math, with a grade point average of 3.9.

“I also learned how good it feels to work hard for something and have it pay off.”

AnnaBelle plans to finish her college career online, performing clinical work with the UC San Diego Extension, as a lactation consultant.

“College gives students such a good skill set to become the best people we can be,” she told her fellow graduates.

“Each of us can – and should – use our abilities and the things we have learned here to do as much good as we can.

“We all have so much potential to impact this crazy world, so let’s go out there and make a difference, so that that at the end of the day, and at the end of our lives, we can say we left our world better than the way we found it.”

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Doug Ernst is the Napa Valley College public information officer. Reach him at DErnst@napavalley.edu or (707) 256-7112.