August 12, 2019 12:15 pm

When Lorra Hernon discovered she was one of only 10 students to receive Seattle University’s highly competitive Alfie Scholarship, she could hardly believe it. There was a time the Pierce College at JBLM grad never saw herself going to college, much less receiving competitive scholarships and grants to help support her through nursing school.

Hernon, 24, came close to not graduating high school at all, in spite of performing well in advanced courses. High school was a challenging period for Hernon personally and, due to a number of unfortunate events, she was unable to graduate on time.

The biggest heartbreak for Hernon was telling her parents that she wouldn’t be graduating with her class. “My parents just felt so bad that I was in this situation,” she said. “They were worried about the thought of me missing out on all these milestones, and having a hard time getting a good job and having a good life.”

Although Hernon received her high school diploma the following year, she still felt she had let her parents down. As Korean immigrants, her mother and stepfather had struggled to piece together a good life for Hernon and her brother. Both her mother and stepfather are also deaf, making the family’s struggles even more complicated.

“My mom was a single mother for a very long time when my brother and I were just toddlers,” Hernon said. “I saw how hard it was for my mom as a deaf woman who also didn’t know English. Just trying to get by with two young kids was very difficult. And now that I’m older, I just started thinking that here I am, fully able to read English, and I can hear just fine. I had all these advantages that most people take for granted. My parents wanted me to get an education so I wouldn’t have to struggle the way they did. But I want to get an education to be able to thank them for all the sacrifices they made for us. I want to be able to do something for them so they won’t have to work so hard in the future.”

With a newfound sense of purpose, Hernon began to work toward her ultimate goal of becoming a nurse anesthetist. She joined the military as a way to gain work experience and to help pay for college. She now serves in the Air Force Reserves as a fuel systems mechanic.

“For me, joining the military was the best decision because I work with the greatest people who are so supportive,” Hernon said. When she told her colleagues she wanted to go back to school, they mentioned that Pierce College at JBLM was located on McChord Air Force Base. Hernon knew the time was right to begin her educational journey to nursing school.

“Pierce College was close to my job, close to my family, and the staff and teachers were amazing,” she said. “Everyone was very accommodating and supportive of my goals.”

With the Air Force Reserves, Hernon works one weekend a month and two weeks per year. During the week she is able to commit all her time and energy toward school. Pierce College at JBLM provided a convenient way for her to complete the first two years of her nursing degree.

Hernon graduated from Pierce College at JBLM this past spring, and credits her advisor as instrumental in helping her apply for Seattle University’s Alfie Scholars program. The program includes a $15,000 annual scholarship to help pay for nursing school. “When I learned I’d been accepted to Seattle U’s nursing program, and earned the scholarship, it was like I was on cloud nine,” she said.

Hernon looks forward to advocating for children and others in need in her career as a nurse. “I remember being sick as a child, and going to a hospital clinic with my mom,” Hernon said. “At the time, it wasn’t very common to have sign language interpreters available in hospitals, so I had to learn how to speak for myself and my brother. I’m looking forward to becoming a nurse so I can be a champion for people and help children through those tough times.”

Her husband, Kevin, has been her biggest supporter along the way. “He really helped me find the confidence to pursue my education,” she said. “He has been a huge support, and I feel so lucky to have him in my life.”

Hernon is well prepared for the next chapter in her life, thanks in large part to her time at Pierce College at JBLM. “It feels amazing to take on this next phase of my life with confidence,” she said. “Now, if I see someone else who is struggling or debating about whether or not to go back to school, I can say that if I can do it, you can, too. It’s definitely possible.”