Commencement speakers offering uplift and guidance to communities and campuses around the globe this spring will meet their match in the inspiration, courage and hope modeled by a mother-daughter pair of Potomac Highlands college graduates. AnnaMarie See and her daughter, Elizabeth Granese, both of Moorefield, each overcame serious adversity, and came to new recognitions of their interests, abilities, and goals — and new understandings about their own future possibilities — and graduated with an associate degree at Eastern WV Community and Technical College’s Commencement 2016, Saturday May 14.
Along the way, they both renewed their faith and hope in themselves, in their family and community, and in each other.
College attendance — let alone success — once seemed beyond reach for Granese, after her first shot at it, as a Moorefield High School graduate in 2009, landed her in trouble. “I started out going to Potomac State my first semester and thinking that I was just going to have fun, and I ended up doing drugs.”
Thanks to her mother’s devotion and “tough love,” and to Pastor Chris Whetzel of the Believers Victory Center in Moorefield, Granese “turned my life around.”
Her recovery also gave Granese the “first-hand experience” that she thought would be valuable to a career in addiction counseling. “I can use my experience to benefit others,” she said, “and encourage others who think they can’t make it, or think they might only make a limited life.”
After successfully completing the program, Granese worked as an intern in Teen Challenge for another 18 months, and might have stayed longer, if doctors had not diagnosed her mother with cancer. “I came home to take care of my mother, who needed someone to be there for her,” she recalled.
Still, the career aspirations kindled by her recovery did not lose luster. “So when Mom got better,” she applied to Eastern. “It’s local, affordable, and convenient, and I was still able to take care of my mother when I needed to.”
Once enrolled, she realized that she “had a lot more options than I had thought.” Caring for her mother, she’d observed “a lot of really good nurses,” and saw that some of them, despite their good work, “felt very dissatisfied.” Strangely, their dissatisfaction awakened Granese to her own inner passion, and once at Eastern, a new possibility opened for her: “I wanted to pursue nursing,” she said.
Her mother, who endured 39 radiation treatments for throat cancer before doctors declared her “free from cancer” in 2013, had a similar realization. “At Eastern,” she noted, “they give you the message, ‘Discover your Potential.’ Well, it’s absolutely true.
“Until I was here, and really started learning with books, and this and that, I don’t think I really knew. They pull out that potential in you,” she explained. “And they make you feel that you’re going to do something to make your mark. And you will.”
See had dropped out of high school in Baltimore, where she grew up, during her senior year in 1977, after meeting “a nice guy. I was going to be Cinderella and live happily ever after,” she said, “which was stupid. But it was a different world then.” In 1993, escaping with her children from what had become an abusive relationship, she moved to the Potomac Highlands. She earned her GED two years later.
Then her luck strengthened. “I met a local man,” Gary See, Sr., who become “the love of my life,” she said. “He’s been there through my darkest hour, and been my shining light.” Between them, they now have 10 children, 13 grandchildren, and more greatgrandchildren. “And when I got sick every one of them stepped up to help.”
After the 2012 recession shut down the American Woodmark plant where the Baltimore transplant had worked for more than a decade, her daughters suggested that “I ought to take a couple of college classes. I laughed at them. People my age don’t go to college, I told her, they get ready for social security.”
But when See attended a hooding ceremony that honored her daughter-in-law Brandi’s master’s degree in Social Work, she “was shocked at the different ages graduating school. And I thought I might be able to do this.”
“I had finished up my treatments, and I felt I was doing good, and thought now is the best time to do it.” And she enrolled at Eastern in the spring of 2013.
After she started college, and even while remaining cancer-free, “complications of radio and chemo” sent See “back to the hospital several times.” On those occasions, her family would bring course and study materials to her hospital room, “and I spread everything out on my hospital bed and did my work.
“The nurses often said to me, ‘Don’t you think you’ve done too much today?’” Even in the hospital all that time, See said, she never missed an assignment.
Despite all that dedication, “At first, Mom didn’t think it would be her thing,” Granese reflected. Before she started at Eastern as a 54-year old woman surrounded by mostly younger students, See had worried how they might treat her. She discovered that the life experience her years embodied gave her a special status.
“Once Lizzy and I took a history class together, and a lot of the things we learned about, I’d lived through them. I lived through the Martin Luther King riots (after his assassination). At that time, around here in West Virginia, it was quiet. But in Baltimore it wasn’t very quiet: I could stand outside my home and see Baltimore City burning,” See recalled.
“The kids in the class would ask questions about what I went through,” she said, “and instead of treating me like an old lady, they were really cool about it.”
Granese also appreciated the mix of students at Eastern. “At a community college, you’re not just going to school with kids just out high school. You’re also with students old enough to be your parents.”
That “diversity, students of all ages – it’s a way better experience,” she pointed out, “because you’re learning not only intellectually with them, but from the things they’ve had to do in their lives. And that helped me pave the way for the decisions I’ll have to make.”
Going to college with her daughter “was fun,” See said. “You don’t really know your kids until you’re around them with their friends and see how they act.”
For Granese, “it was definitely a good thing. It’s helped our relationship to grow, to be there for each other. I always did better in math, and she did better in English, so we were able to help each other out. And now she’s been able to excel in this area, so she doesn’t have to limit herself.”
And excel See certainly did. Selected as a member of Phi Theta Kappa, the international honor society for two-year colleges, See completed the associate in arts degree (A.A.) last fall with an emphasis in behavioral science, and with honors. This past spring semester through WVU and Potomac State she earned straight A’s in online courses towards her bachelor’s degree in Social Work.
“Next term I’ll take three courses in the classroom at Potomac State, and two online through WVU.” Eventually, she said, “I’d like to get my master’s degree.”
See’s battle against cancer has given her a deep appreciation for social workers. “I want to work with hospice care. When you get to the point where you’re going to die,” she observed, “someone needs to be there who is going to step up.”
The care-giving gene seems to run in the family. Daughter Granese graduated with an associate in science (A.S.) degree, pre-nursing major. And all during her years at college, Granese has remained active with a local recovery program, Celebrate Recovery, run by Pastor Rick Bergdoll at the First Baptist Church in Petersburg.
One of the program’s six leaders, “I facilitate a women’s addiction group Friday night,” she said. Celebrate Recovery’s clients include several Eastern students. “It’s a supportive environment for them, and I like helping people.”
The licensed practical nurse (LPN) training program at WVU-Parkersburg has already accepted Granese for fall semester. In July, she’ll hear from the LPN program at James Rumsey Technical Institute in Martinsburg, “which would be closer and let me stay plugged in at home,” she noted.
Eventually, she plans to continue for a registered nurse (RN) degree. “Eastern’s program would be a possibility,” she said.
Dealing with her daughter’s drug addiction “was horrible,” AnnaMarie See acknowledged. “Anyone who goes through that with a loved one goes through a lot. There were times I wished she would run away and never come home, even though I loved her deeply, just as I do now. And I was so afraid that she would wind up dead someday.”
This year, as Granese further discovered and developed her own inner resources and capacities, See has come to recognize “another side” of her daughter: “her devotion to people. I was impressed and inspired by how dedicated she was to help people so they don’t have to live that kind of life.
“She’s been the biggest inspiration in my life,” See emphasized. “She is an amazing young woman. I love all my children, and all my step-children, but God has given her a path that something special is going to come from her.”
On the day of her daughter’s high school graduation, See remembered, “the police let Lizzie graduate, and then they arrested her. So she spent the rest of the day sitting in the police station. And I sat in the parking lot waiting for her.
“Now to see where she is today, it’s amazing. Lizzie was as far down as you can get. So this graduation day is very special for me.”
For more information about Eastern’s financial aid opportunities, programs of study, workforce training and community education and events, call 304-434-8000, or toll-free: 877-982-2322; or check the College’s website: “www.easternwv.edu”.
Eastern West Virginia Community and Technical College is a comprehensive and equal opportunity community and technical college that makes educational resources accessible to the families, communities, and employers of Grant, Hampshire, Hardy, Mineral, Pendleton and Tucker counties. Eastern is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission.