She was the first female African American firefighter in the history of the Holyoke Fire Department. She served there 18 years, retiring in 2008 with the rank of lieutenant.
Camille L. Theriaque, HCC '12, is now heading full steam toward a new career, propelled by the associate degree she will receive next month and a scholarship from the Jack Kent Cooke Foundation that will provide up to $30,000 a year for her to continue her education.
She is one of just 60 students nationwide to receive this honor. The scholarship is awarded to outstanding community college students transfering to competitive four-year schools. Theriaque will attend either Smith or Mount Holyoke College to study psychology.
"I'm sorry I'm leaving HCC," said Theriaque, 47, who is originally from Springfield and now lives in Holyoke. "This past semester has been a whirlwind of activity. This scholarship is like the frosting, which is my favorite part of the cake."
Theriaque is the third HCC student in the last four years to receive the Jack Kent Cooke award. Last year, scholarship winner Bitian Zhang transferred from HCC to Amherst College. Before that, HCC student Sarah Vazquez transferred to Mount Holyoke College.
"For HCC, this is certainly a major feather in our cap," said Mark Broadbent, HCC's Transfer Affairs counselor.
Theriaque left the fire department after being diagnosed with chronic myelogenous leukemia. The disease caused blood clots in her legs and lungs that left her weak in the legs and short of breath. She still takes medication for it, but doesn't let it slow her down.
As a firefighter and EMT, she'd been trained in Critical Incident Stress Management and helped counsel colleagues who had been involved in traumatic and sometimes tragic incidents on the job. She enrolled full time at HCC in 2010 with the goal of becoming a counselor helping veterans, firefighters and other first-responders suffering from post-traumatic stress. That is still her plan.
"After I started feeling healthy, rather than sit home and not do anything, I decided to go back to school and do something positive,"she said.
By all accounts, Theriaque has been a positive and inspiring force both on and off campus. She will graduate with high honors and a GPA of nearly 3.9. She is a member of the Pathways Program, member of Student Senate, vice president of the Psychology Club and co-secretary of the Anthropology-Sociology Club. She is also a volunteer for the Red Cross, where she conducts CPR and defibrillator training for professionals and community members.
Theriaque will travel to the State House in Boston May 10 where she will be honored yet again by the state Dept. of Education as one of the "29 Who Shine," an annual award that recognizes a single student from each public college in Massachusetts.
Photos: (Left) Scholarship winner Camille Theriaque, left, stands with Irma Medina, senior coordinator of HCC's Pathways program. (Right) Camille Theriaque.