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Graduate Turns Adversity into Advantage

Edgecombe Community College’s Drive-Thru Graduation Parade in August 2020 was a family affair for Respiratory Therapy graduate Aliesha Keys. Her biggest fans are her husband, Shelvin Keys, and their children, (l-r) Chyna, Jaylin, and Sha’leyah.

Each time Aliesha Keys has faced tragedy, hardship, and setbacks, she has turned those misfortunes into triumphs.

When she graduated in May 2020 from Edgecombe Community College’s Respiratory Therapy program, it was yet another example of her commitment to rise above adversity.

“I knew I had to be a role model for my children,” the 33-year-old Keys says. “I wanted to show them that if you put your mind to it and always keep God first, you can do anything.”

Keys’ life is a blueprint of that adage.

Raised by her grandmother, she left home at 16. She graduated from high school and earned a college scholarship. She had a baby during her first year in college, but the baby passed away less than a month later, and Keys dropped out of school.

Two years later, happiness returned to Keys when she married Shelvin Keys, and the couple started a family. Their children are Jaylin, 12, Sha’leyah, 10, and Chyna, 7.

In 2016, Keys began working at Fresenius Kidney Care in Farmville. But she wanted to do more for her family, so in 2018, she applied to the Nursing program at Edgecombe Community College. She had a backup plan to enroll in the Practical Nursing program at ECC. Or so she thought.

“I didn’t get into the Nursing program, and I mistakenly didn’t apply to the PN program, either,” she says. “I felt hopeless and defeated.”

What happened next, she says, was life-altering.

“I got an email from ECC asking me if I would be interested in the Respiratory Therapy program. “That’s when everything changed – for the better,” she says.

When her first day in the Respiratory Therapy program began in 2018 on August 23, the birthday of the baby she lost, she knew she was on the right path. She thrived in the program and looked forward to her new career.

But the year 2020 brought fresh challenges. As Keys settled into her final semester in Respiratory Therapy, the coronavirus pandemic swept across the globe.

Because the COVID-19 virus affects the respiratory system, the demand for respiratory therapists skyrocketed. Consequently, senior-level Respiratory Therapy students such as Keys were granted provisional licenses prior to taking state exams. She and her Class of 2020 classmates went to work.

“It was pretty scary for me at first, but now I know I feel confident about what I’m doing,” assures Keys, who works at Vidant Medical Center in Greenville. “I love the field of respiratory therapy. It was definitely the right path for me.”