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Outstanding Student: LaShonda Kearney

Jun 17, 2024

LaShonda Kearney was named Rockingham Community College’s Outstanding Student of the Year, RCC’s highest honor. The Licensed Practical Nurse accepted her award during the College’s graduation ceremony, after completing the LPN to Associate Degree Nursing program in May.

Kearney is humbled by the award.

“All I do is care. I see a problem, and I fix it. I don’t see that I’m a shining star. I care, just like all nurses do,” she said.

A graduate smiles in her cap and gown on graduation day.
LaShonda Kearny, RCC’s Outstanding Student of the Year for 2023-2024.

Kearney is a first-generation college student and maintained a 4.0 grade-point average while working full time and caring for her grandmother. In her free time, she voluntarily prepares meals for an elderly neighbor, and helps harvest vegetables from a community garden. She is a member of the National Student Nurses Association and the Academy of Medical-Surgical Nurses organization.

In April, Kearney received RCC’s Associate Degree Nursing Perseverance Award – but Kearney’s perseverance started decades before she even arrived at RCC.

As a child, Kearney spent a lot of time at her aunt’s house practicing piano, where she was enthralled by the plethora of nursing books on hand to support her aunt’s career.

“My cousin came home from college sick. I was 8, and I wanted to help and serve. Back then we had those old mercury thermometers. I took her temperature and was elated that I could read it correctly,” Kearney said. “From that moment, I became interested in how to care for people and make them feel better.”

Kearney hit many roadblocks as she pursued her passion.

A community college counselor advised her to consider another career, so she chose social work. That career path ended quickly and she took a full-time job at a car dealership.

“I was young, in my 20s, and my heart kept telling me I was a nurse,” she said.

Kearney made a tough decision, taking a nearly 80 percent pay cut just to get her foot into the healthcare door by working in the laundry room at a long-term care facility.

“But being in that environment, I met Certified Nursing Assistants and talked to nurses, and did a self-study program to become a CNA,” she said. She cut costs by moving in with her grandmother, and trained to be a medication technician.

Kearney then earned an Associate in Arts degree from Wake Tech, in preparation of entering a Registered Nurse (RN) program.

“I was accepted, but my great grandmother fell ill, so I couldn’t take my seat,” she said.

Kearney moved to Chapel Hill and worked as a pharmacy technician. She missed the deadline to enter the RN program at Durham Tech, so she entered the LPN program, which was three semesters instead of five. She landed a scholarship and excelled in the program and extracurricular activities.

Kearney’s extensive work for the program led to her receiving the Outstanding Leadership Award from the college that year, and she earned her Associate in Applied Science in Licensed Practical Nursing/Vocational Nurse Training.

“The Durham Tech program was pivotal to my growth as a nurse because I was able to do my LPN clinicals at Duke University,” she said. “I paid the tuition of a community college and was able to do clinicals there. That’s something I’m very proud of.”

Kearney moved to Winston-Salem to work for Atrium Health Care Plus in a community clinic, through which she visited patient homes to administer medicine and educate them on health issues.

But she had her eye on an Associate Degree in Nursing. She was accepted at Surry Community College, but her work and class schedules would not mesh. She was accepted at Durham Tech, whose day program was easier on her schedule, but it was too long of a drive.

“I met a Reidsville native who spoke volumes about the LPN to ADN program at Rockingham Community College. I did not know RCC existed,” Kearney said. “It was an hour away, but she said it would be worth every minute.”

Kearney said her coworker was absolutely right.

“The family-oriented atmosphere at RCC is profound. I felt love, I felt support, I felt at home. I felt like it was community base that wanted to help me succeed,” she said. “Before RCC, it was always me trying to find my way for the most part. My family didn’t know what it meant for me to have the struggles that I did,” she said.

RCC faculty were always available and motivational, she said.

“I had never been to a school where I didn’t even have to register myself for classes. Everything at RCC was streamlined. The doors just opened. If you plant seeds in fertile ground, they flourish… that’s what it felt like,” she said.

Kearney’s rough seas were clearly behind her as she settled into the calm waters of RCC.

Not eligible for financial aid, Kearney discovered RCC’s payment plan. Her employer reimbursed half of her tuition, and she received her first-ever tax refund. Things were looking up.

Almost magically, her class and work schedules seamlessly blended. At work, she landed an elusive float pool position, which meant her work schedule was more flexible and she only worked four days per week. She took Mondays off for classes, worked Tuesdays through Fridays, and did her RCC clinicals on Saturdays.

“Everything lined right up, and I’m very grateful. I want to do what God wants me to do, and I want to do it well. He has given me a gift to care for people,” Kearney said.

“When I did my ICU rotation, I loved every bit of it. But then I doubted myself, because it’s a very challenging position. These patients are so critical, and I don’t want to miss anything. I don’t want the glory of what it looks like to be an ICU nurse, that’s not what my motivation is. When I was there, I felt like I used my brain to its fullest extent, put forth confidence, and would challenge myself. If I am lucky, I will save every patient I come in contact with. I know that’s not realistic, but that’s what I want,” she said.

“I ordered an ICU book and I’m going through that. I tend to be a perfectionist when I put my name on something, although I know I’m not perfect by any means. But I try to do the best I can,” she said. “The story is still being told.”

~By Gerri Hunt, Rockingham Community College Director of Public Information

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PO Box 38
215 Wrenn Memorial Rd.
Wentworth, NC 27375

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