Elizabeth Graham had nowhere to go but up.
She was homeless and jobless months after her husband died of liver cancer.
“He didn’t leave us in a good situation,” she said, “but I had to keep moving forward.”
Graham not only went back to school at Everest College’s Henderson campus, 170 N. Stephanie St., but she recently received the Dream Award, given to students who overcome significant obstacles on the way to furthering their education.
Graham met her husband 27 years ago.
“I will never forget how we met,” she said. “He was my boss. He came up on my first day and said, ‘Where is the new girl?’ I raised my hand and he told me, ‘I ate your lunch so I’ll take you to dinner.’ He ate my lunch.”
But his character, as out there as she thought it was, attracted her to him.
Graham moved to Henderson in 1991 shortly after she and her husband married and had their first child.
About two years ago, her husband was diagnosed with liver cancer.
“By the time he got news there was nothing that could be done,” she said.
After he died, Graham and her son struggled to find housing and food.
Instead of getting stuck in a cycle of depression, she decided to take hold of her life and go back to school with the hope of landing a better-paying job.
“I might have been in my 50s, but I had a whole other life ahead of me,” Graham said. “I’ve got another 30 years left.”
Because her husband was a veteran, her son received death benefits after his father died.
“So we had $650 in benefits and another $300 in food stamps each month,” Graham said.
She wanted to be able to provide but knew her best chance to make a better wage was through education.
“So I put feelers out there and did some research on different colleges,” she said.
Of all the places she looked into, Everest College was the first to respond to her.
Graham decided to choose medical billing and insurance coding as her degree because she had worked doing inventory control before and thought some of the skill set she had acquired would be applicable.
She was able to use money from her husband’s benefits to attend classes at Everest.
“It was a struggle,” she said. “It wasn’t easy, but we made it work.”
Graham made school a priority.
“I would go to school for hours and do homework for six hours,” she said.
Graham also volunteered and got involved with some of the student groups on campus.
She graduated in May 2013.
“The timing worked out perfect,” she said. “I graduated and was able to find a job right when the benefits ended. Now I’m able to provide for my boy again.”
She works at a cardiovascular-
thoracic surgeon’s office doing insurance coding.
Graham was told recently that she was a recipient of the award.
According to Steve Guell, president of Everest College’s Henderson campus, the Dream Award was established in 2008.
“It was created as a way to recognize graduates who have overcome extraordinary challenges to complete their post-secondary education and find success in their chosen fields,” Guell said.
Six graduates have been honored since its inception.
Each year, the leadership team at Everest nominates eligible graduates based on experience before college, the reason why the individual chose to further their education, academic and post-graduate accomplishments and community involvement.
Stories have varied from overcoming substance abuse to struggling with homelessness.
He said Graham’s story is inspirational.
“She pushed through, finished college, landed a job and has made a better life for herself and her son,” he said. “During her time at Everest, she maintained a smile in every situation and focused on solutions rather than the obstacles along the way.”
The award comes with $2,500 to apply toward furthering Graham’s education.
“I have my degree but none of the certificates,” she said. “There are a number of certificates I can get to further my education.”
Even though she misses her husband, she isn’t going to let her loss hold her down.
“I have come a long way over the last 19 months,” she said. “My husband would be proud.”
Contact Henderson/Anthem View reporter Michael Lyle at email@example.com or 702-387-5201.