Karina Garrett (center) with her daughters Vashti (left) and Ame

Karina Garrett (center) stands with her daughters Vashti (left) and Ame

Feature

Graduation Feature: A commencement ceremony for the family

If there was ever a time for a movie-like feel-good ending, Karina Garrett and her two daughters Ame and Vashti certainly deserve it. They’ve dealt with a number of sad and horrible things in life to get to where they are now.

Where they are now focuses on May 13 when the three Lewis-Clark State College seniors will walk during commencement ceremonies and receive their Bachelor of Science degrees in Nursing. Ame and Vashti will graduate with magna cum laude honors, while Karina will be earning her second degree.

For the past two years, the three have been study partners, a support system for each other, and basically have kept the same class schedule while living in a one-bedroom apartment in Lewiston.

That will change after graduation when Vashti, age 22, moves to Destin, Florida, to be with her fiancé, who is an Army officer. She already has a nursing position waiting for her upon passing the NCLEX licensing exam. Karina and Ame, 24, are hoping to find jobs together in northern Idaho.

Their journey, however, hasn’t been easy or pleasant at times.

“I think given the circumstances they have gone through, it easily could have caused them to stray off target with their nursing paths,” said Krista Harwick, chair of the Nursing & Health Sciences Division at LC State. “There were some significant obstacles and family events that could have caused them to take a pause or sit out. But they are very determined.”

“I’m not sure how to simplify our story,” Karina says. “It’s quite complicated. It has not been easy.”

Their story begins in Mexico where Karina was born and raised. She married an American, Steven Garrett, and both were studying to be doctors. Stephen earned his degree first and Karina was only four months away from finishing up in Mexico when they decided to move to the United States about 25 years ago. After a few stops in the South, where Ame was born, the family moved to the remote mountains near Lucile, Idaho, about 100 mile south of Lewiston and near Riggins. Daughter Vashti and son Eli soon followed.

The family home was in a very remote area and not easily accessible. Karina homeschooled the children and Steven built a complex hydro electric system from a small creek to generate power for the home.

“It was very hard but I loved every minute of it,” Karina said. “We had to chop our own wood. The kids helped me in the garden grow vegetables. The children learned how to ski, play at least two instruments, Spanish and a little bit of Portuguese, too.”

The family did almost everything together. Steven worked as a physician in the Corrections Corporation of America (now CoreCivic), a company that owns and manages private prisons and detention centers. He traveled throughout the Pacific Northwest providing medical services and the family would often travel with him in a small camper.

It was during this time the two daughters were heavily exposed to the medical profession. Steven would have the children read medical books and then quiz them on medical terms, anatomy, skin diseases and other areas.

“I definitely wouldn’t change our childhood because we got to spend a lot of time in nature and I think that just really helped our creativity,” Ame, said. “It was an awesome childhood. I feel like we got to do a lot of things that other kids might not have the opportunity to do.”

Later, the family chose to return to Mexico to do missions and community service. They were there for about four years before Steven was diagnosed with cancer, which prompted the family's return to Lucile. Unfortunately, a few months after their return Steven passed away.

It was during this time that Ame and Vashti, now in the early teens, noticed the care their father received from nurses.

“I got to see how the ICU (Intensive Care Unit) nurses were extremely supportive, even in this terrible situation,” Ame said. “I thought of how they were making an impact, even on our worst days, and how that is something I would like to do.”

The two decided they would pursue nursing careers together. Ame spent a year in Mexico to finish up her high school degree online and waited for Vashti to finish her high school degree. The pair then took a couple of CNA classes and decided to apply at LC State for the start of the 2018 fall semester with the goal of getting into the nursing program.

The daughters shared the one-bedroom apartment in Lewiston while taking their pre-requisite courses. The knew they could rely on each other for support and push each other because both are competitive.

In the meantime, Karina had remarried and was living in the Riggins area. Unfortunately, she became a victim of an abusive relationship, which led to a divorce.

“I wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for the YWCA and the Idaho Legal Aid office here in Lewiston,” Karina said.

Karina had moved in with her daughters following the divorce and with their encouragement, Karina inquired about the nursing program. Because of her medical background and previous schooling from Vermont, Karina was able to apply immediately to the nursing program.

“We didn’t think she would get in, not because she wasn’t capable, but because there was such limited space,” said Vashti, who along with her sister regularly made the President’s List honor roll for a 3.75-4.0 GPA. “I think our class had a total of 44 students and it was very competitive to get into. That’s why we were somewhat shocked when she got in.”

To add to the situation, the COVID-19 pandemic hit when the daughters were finishing up their pre-requisite classes. In the middle of the semester, both Ame and Vashti had to adjust from having in-person classes to going completely online in their small apartment. They got through it and were accepted into the nursing program. It meant the three would start the nursing program together in the fall of 2020. It is believed to be the first time at LC State that three family members were in the same nursing class together.

“The first year of nursing school was crazy and super stressful, but it was nice to have each other,” Vashti said. “Sometimes when you are super stressed, you forget about things, so having each other to remind the others about deadlines or assignments was a benefit.”

“I think it’s been wonderful for them because they have built-in study partners and all of them are very determined, courteous, professional and respectful,” Harwick said.

To help offset expenses, both daughters were accepted into the Work Scholars program at LC State. The Work Scholars program allows students to work and gain job experience, while reducing or eliminating their student loan debt by earning a tuition scholarship and stipend. The program is for students who demonstrate both financial need and academic success. This year, Ame has worked in the college’s math and science lab as a tutor for various science and nursing classes while Vashti is working in the Social Work program office. Both work 10 hours a week.

“Ame works with such grace under pressure and provides a calm, patient, measured approach when tutoring students,” said Suzanne Rosseau, who is LC State’s Math & Science Tutoring Center coordinator and a mathematics instructor. “Ame provides depth and context to the difficult content that students struggle with. Ame’s soft spoken, steady approach, keeps students in the right mindset and a learning space, versus a stressed or anxious space where it is difficult for students to learn. She has a gift for staying calm and keeping others calm. She is going to be an amazing nurse.”

“Vashti is a very self-directed employee,” said LaChelle Rosenbaum, who is the social work program field director and an assistant professor. “You give her a project and she successfully completes it with minimal supervision. She is reliable, efficient, effective, kind, approachable, and teachable. When Vashti joined our office as an LC Work Scholar she immediately bought into the cause of the office and our department – she understood the importance of her work and that her contributions were highly valued.”

Karina works at Valley Medical Center as a phlebotomist, a position she has held for almost a year.

Their story, however, took another sad turn in October when Eli passed away. The three used each other to press through tragedy and all made the President’s List for the semester.

“I remember talking with him about the Work Scholars program and how I was worried I wasn’t going to get in,” Ame said. “I remember him telling me ‘Don’t worry, you’ll get in.’ Talking to him over the course of it was really encouraging. He was awesome and will always be with us. We will be thinking about him when we graduate.”

“It has been very difficult for us to get through this program,” Karina said. “I look back and I am amazed with all that we have gone through. I thank God for my strength because without God and my church family I wouldn’t be here either.”

The three credit the community LC State has provided them as well. All three arrived knowing basically no one in Lewiston but said their classmates and especially the faculty have provided strong support and have made it a community for them to succeed in.

“I think one of the things that was very beneficial to them is the faculty were so accommodating and helped them adjust some schedules and deadlines as needed during the family tragedy,” Harwick said. “They weren’t ones who expected it, but they were very, very grateful for the support they had.

“When the family event occurred, the faculty really rallied around them and supported them in many ways. They made accommodations, reached out by messages and asked what they could do to help. I was really impressed by the way the faculty came together to support the family.”

“We have really enjoyed the program,” Ame said. “The professors really want you to succeed. You hear from other programs and it’s almost like they want students to fail and make the classes so hard where nobody can pass them instead of empowering the students. The students are the ones who are going to be taking care of the patients eventually. I just really like how the professors here really focus on the students and helping you succeed.”

“I think we are blessed to be in this nursing program and to have studied here,” Karina said. “It’s a small community, it’s rural and it’s Idaho. I like it.”

Graduation will have both smiles and tears for the family. Vashti will soon be off for Florida and has the desire of becoming a flight nurse. Flight nurses care for patients who are being transported usually by a helicopter to a nearby hospital for emergency care.

“She has promised to come back,” Karina says, smiling. “His (the fiancé's) family is from here so I know they will be coming back.”

Both Karina and Ame want to be intensive care nurses and if they can’t be employed at the same facility, they hope to at least be in the same city or approximate area. Karina would eventually like to become a nurse practitioner while Ame wants to become a nurse anesthetist.

“I feel like we have been through a lot together, and we’ve been able to achieve,” Vashti said. “It was really important that we did this together. Now I feel like it’s something we deserve. We have worked hard and I’m extremely proud and happy about it.”

“It has been an uphill road for us,” Karina said. “But I’ve always told my daughters they can do anything and they can do everything. They are very capable and smart. I know they will reach whatever goals they set for themselves. I know what they are both capable of and I see them both doing very well.”

“I have been very impressed with these three,” Harwick said. “They are motivated by wanting to help others. They knew they had a calling to help others. They are kind-hearted, good-soul people and their patients will be very blessed by them.”

At LC State’s commencement on May 13, que the happy ending and pass the Kleenex.

Commencement

Lewis-Clark State College holds an annual commencement ceremony in spring term at the Lewiston campus. Get your questions answered about the ceremony, required regalia, and applying for graduation.

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