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Galena Woman Perseveres to Graduate

Posted on Thursday, May 17, 2007

WYE MILLS – Andrea Bolinger´s five-year journey at Chesapeake College ends May 23 when she receives her associate of arts degree during Commencement 2007.

The 23-year-old Galena resident has cerebral palsy and has faced challenges since she was a toddler. As a new high school graduate in 2002, Bolinger was less than enthusiastic about continuing her education.

"I didn´t have good school experiences. Every year, it seemed, I had surgery on my legs and missed so much class. I was always trying to catch up. On top of that, I felt different and isolated," Bolinger said. "I figured that college would just be more of the same, so I wasn´t looking forward to it. I came down to register just because I thought I had to do it."

Bolinger said that her counselor at Kent County High School, Sue Nickerson, had pushed and prodded her to give college a try. So, to please her mentor, she traveled to Wye Mills on her last day of high school to register for college courses. Enrolling part-time at Chesapeake that day, Bolinger said, put her on a path of self discovery.

"I didn´t have a plan and didn´t expect much. The only thing I knew was that this could be a fresh start for me," Bolinger said. "I realized that I could start with a clean slate in an environment where, maybe, I would be known for something other than having a disability."

She said she was quickly encouraged by the open atmosphere at Chesapeake.

"I felt like things that I had been fighting for all my live were already provided at Chesapeake," Bolinger said. "A syllabus, for example, is automatic. All the instructors hand you a syllabus so you know exactly what to expect."

The most encouraging sign, Bolinger said, was that her disability didn´t seem to matter to her new classmates.

"Most people didn´t even notice that I walked with canes. They found other things to talk about and I was so relieved to be just another student," Bolinger said.

There were obstacles, but Bolinger said she figured out ways around them all. Bolinger rode the MUST bus to campus during her five years at Chesapeake, requiring her to leave home hours before her first class of the day. Walking with canes and a rolling cart for her books, Bolinger moved from one building to the next. In addition to the physical challenges, Bolinger said she worked to overcome the shyness and negative interpersonal experiences of her childhood and adolescence. She also credits her parents, Skip and Ronda Bolinger, with helping her overcome the challenges.

Bolinger served as a Chesapeake College ambassador and found that she actually enjoyed interaction with the student body. She joined the Student Government Association, and eventually became the group´s vice president

Bolinger´s hard work and determination got the eye of Chesapeake faculty and staff. She´s represented Chesapeake at two Student Advocacy events, meeting Maryland´s governor twice. Student Services staff chose Bolinger to attend the Chesapeake College Leadership Academy.

Dean of Retention Services Joan Seitzer has guided Bolinger since her early days on campus.

"From the first moment I met her, I knew that Andrea was determined to make the most of her experience here. She was ready to push herself and eager to learn," Seitzer said. "I, like everyone else here, have been so impressed with her determination. Nothing discourages her. She´s an inspiration."

As Bolinger worked toward a degree, she considered different career paths. Her mind kept going back to the teachers and counselors she´d had in Kent County.

"When I was a child, I was always the only disabled kid in class. My classmates didn´t seem to know what to make of me. But the teachers and staff in the school never treated me any differently," Bolinger said. "They knew that giving me special treatment would be a disservice and I´m grateful that they didn´t. The encouraged me, but they didn´t baby me."

Those teachers and counselors, Bolinger said, have been mentors throughout her life. They have inspired her, she said, to want to help other people. But she didn´t know how she could help others.

Bolinger earned good grades at Chesapeake and decided to aid other students. She became a note taker for students with disabilities.

"For the first time, I saw that I had something to give. I could help someone else," Bolinger said. "It confirmed that going into education or counseling would be the right step for me."

Bolinger will begin classes at Salisbury University in the fall and plans to live away from her lifelong home for the first time. At this point, she plans to study psychology and education. Bolinger says she hopes to become an elementary school counselor someday.

"I´m excited about living in a dorm and going to class on a big campus. I´m ready for this now. There is no way I would´ve been confident enough to go off to a four-year college right after I graduated from high school. I needed this time at Chesapeake and I´m looking forward to the future," Bolinger said. "I feel like I became a different person at Chesapeake. A better person."


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