On May 14, Emily Cunningham was asked to tell her amazing story to her peers, staff, and faculty during the 2015 GED Graduation.

“As we come to this day, we all have different stories, outlooks on life, different plans and dreams for our future,” Emily began. “Without even knowing all of the people here, I can say without a doubt, graduating is one of the best feelings. We’ve worked hard for this while facing many different obstacles and just to hear your name be called out makes it all worth it.”

Emily’s story began four and a half years ago at the age of fourteen when she mysteriously became sick. She was soon diagnosed with several rare disorders, which include a rare genetic disease called Porphyria (Type AIP). She also has Dysautonomia, Postural Orthostatic Tachycardia Syndrome (POTS), Eosinophilic Esophagitis (EOS), reflux, prolonged QT wave, gastroparesis, iron deficiency anemia and mitochondrial dysfunction.

She said, “When I was fourteen I was diagnosed with a rare genetic disease that has no cure and that most people have never heard of.”

The fourteen-year old was placed on hospital homebound leave and consequentially had no assistance from her school teachers.

“I had teachers and classmates tell me I wouldn’t be able to finish high school,” Emily added.

Despite the lack of assistance, Emily found motivation from being constantly told she couldn’t pass, but she was able to pass all portions of the Georgia High School Graduation Test. However, since she missed so many days of school, she was not permitted to graduate.

“All I wanted was to hear my name called out, walk across the stage, and grab my diploma—and smile so big that my cheeks hurt,” remembered Emily.

Her diagnosis required her to make frequent visits to Columbus for various doctor’s visits and treatments. It was there that Emily met Martin in 2012.

“He was getting chemo treatments and I was a puzzle piece that no one could figure out yet,” explained Emily. “Due to the three hour distance, we always said we’d just be friends, but we never ended up dating anyone else. It was always just us.”

Last July, the couple became boyfriend and girlfriend—and then in early October of the same year, Martin was told his cancer had spread.

He encouraged Emily to pursue her dream of receiving her diploma.

When Emily first heard about the GED program at Bainbridge State College, she was skeptical of receiving a GED rather than a high school diploma.

She said, “At first I didn’t even want to know anything about it because I was always told GED stood for ‘good enough diploma.’”

After participating in the program and being told she could do it by the instructors at BSC, she discovered a new meaning for GED.

“GED really stands for ‘greater expectations required,’” said Emily. “I would tell anyone who is trying to get their GED to never, ever give up. Having teachers that actually care about you and help is a huge thing. I never had that in high school. The Bainbridge State GED instructors all cared about me and helped me with whatever I needed and made the process so much easier.”

Her doctors and nurses were also a huge help during the process of earning her GED. She would bring school work with her to the hospital and they would encourage her—and tell her she could do it.

And when they couldn’t help her—Martin was always there to help her along the way.

Emily’s dream came true when she walked across the stage at the Charles H. Kirbo Regional Center and accepted her GED from Dr. Richard Carvajal, President of Bainbridge State College on May 14.

Exactly 15 days before she walked across the stage, Martin lost his long, hard fought battle with cancer.

During the speech she gave that evening, she dedicated her accomplishment to Martin.

“I do this all in his honor. He lived life to the fullest. He never took a day for granted. He taught me so much about life. Having this diploma will allow me to fulfill a lifelong dream of mine,” said Emily.

The message she conveyed to her peers and the audience was to let them know they can make a difference.

She said, “No matter if you think you can or cannot, you can do anything you put your mind to. There are countless opportunities for us out in the world, but it’s up to us if we decide to go for it. This diploma, the accomplishment we have earned, shouldn’t just sit on a shelf.”

Through Emily’s supportive instructors, doctors, nurses, family—and Martin, she was finally able to realize her “greater expectations desired.”

She plans to go to college and become a nurse because of the pediatric nurses who have assisted her in the past four and half years.

“Education is an amazing thing. What we can do with it is even better—and that is absolutely phenomenal,” Emily encouraged her peers. “Be that change you want to see in the world and don’t let anyone hold you back. Strive for greatness always. You have received your ‘greater expectations desired’—and now go out and make that difference in the world. The difference you are meant to do.”


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