Acts of Kindness

DATE: Monday, May 13, 2024

"When I graduate in 2025, I will be able to stand in front of my three children, who've been looking up to me and depending on me since day one, to set the stage for our future." – Madeline Gray, scholarship recipient

Maddie Gray

Madeline Gray is a nursing student from Colrain, Massachusetts, who was awarded the Berkshire Bank Scholarship from the HCC Foundation for the 2024-2025 academic year. As a scholarship recipient, she was asked to speak at the HCC Foundation's May 9, 2024, scholarship reception. The essay she wrote as part of her scholarship application – and her speech – addressed the question: "What was the most significant obstacle you've had to overcome?"

'We all must overcome obstacles in life, some of us more than others. I could tell you about how my mother abandoned me young or how my father is serving a life sentence or how I bounced around from foster homes for much of my childhood. But while these obstacles did collectively mold me into the woman I am today, the most significant one was and still is ... me.

Thinking back to all that I've survived, the common denominator is clear. it was resilience. Life has thrown many curveballs my way, and I've had to fight like hell to get back up each time I've been knocked down. Some of those hits hit way harder than others, which made getting back up increasingly more difficult. But the alternative seemed way worse to me. Staying down meant giving up on myself, and for a time I did give up. 

Although those years were the loneliest years of my life, one day I woke up and decided that enough was enough. I had finally come to the realization that the only person that could hold me back was myself. I could become the stigma of being a foster youth or write my own story. 

So, I went down to the nearest college. I biked down there with all that I had, and I signed up for GED courses. (I had dropped out of high school due to a lot of bullying). I got my GED that spring and continued on my college journey.   

At that time, I had no idea what I wanted to do. But the staff went above and beyond to help me figure it out. They saw my potential even if I couldn't fully see it yet. They helped me find the resources that I needed to succeed. Even after I became pregnant with my first child a year into college at only 20 years old, they continued to help me to get through the rest of my college experience.

I was terrified of what it meant for my future. But I wasn't ready to give up my college education or my dream of becoming a mother, so I chose both. With the support of my professors and faculty, I was able to continue with my studies throughout the entire pregnancy. The professors and faculty went above and beyond. They helped me when I thought that I couldn't keep going with a child in my belly. I thought that I had to give up my education and my future. 

And then in 2016, after taking a two-year sabbatical to focus on motherhood, I returned to school but with a clearer path and more determination than ever. At HCC, I chipped away at my prerequisites for the nursing program, little by little over the course of about four years. I took on motherhood by day and I went to school at night, and I had the unconditional support of my husband and chosen family. 

Going into nursing, I knew that the road ahead was going to be incredibly challenging, but, so far, it's been a challenge well worth taking. There have been many setbacks along the way that have made me doubt myself. But each obstacle has paved the way for the next path. 

One example that has stuck with me throughout the years: When I was halfway through my nursing prerequisites, my oldest child was hospitalized with cellulitis. Crippled with fear, I began to question my ability to balance both school and motherhood. Had I not been so distracted, would I have fought harder to trust my instinct when his doctors kept shrugging it off? And if I was already struggling part time with my prerequisites, how was I going to make it through the nursing program full time? 

But, in that moment of uncertainty, my son's nurse noticed me crying by his crib. She sat next to me, and she just listened. She encouraged me to keep going and reminded me of the strength that I already possessed. Her compassion and kindness in my time of need, reminded me of exactly why I wanted to become a nurse in the first place. And that was enough to keep me going. And I did keep going, despite the odds. 

Now, fast forward to today, and I've just completed my first year of the nursing program here at HCC, a moment that felt impossible 10 years ago. When I graduate in 2025, I will be able to stand in front of my three children, who've been looking up to me and depending on me since day one, to set the stage for our future. 

While I was met with more animosity than benevolence in this life, it was and still is, those small acts of kindness that have truly contributed to my resilience and strength. Acts of kindness from those that I love. Acts of kindness from those whom I have just met. Acts of kindness that will help make me first of my blood to graduate from college. Acts of kindness that I plan to pay forward someday.

So, to Berkshire bank and all those who have supported me through my endeavors, know that you are also playing a part in me breaking a long generational cycle of adversity."

PHOTO: Madeline Gray speaks at the HCC Foundation's 2024 scholarship reception.