GRADUATION 2017: Early College senior won’t let anything keep her from her dream

Published 12:00 am Friday, June 9, 2017

By Rebecca Rider

SALISBURY — For most high school students, senior year is a time of celebration — the crowning end of their high school career. But Brianna Settle, a Rowan County Early College student, has few memories of her final year at school — or of the year before.

The summer before her junior year, Settle was involved in a car accident. She was sitting in the back seat when the car she was in was rear-ended while idling at a stoplight. Settle said she doesn’t remember the accident, or much of anything after it.

A visit to the hospital showed that she suffered from a traumatic brain injury that impaired her ability to form new memories. The following two years are a blur, she said.

“After the accident my whole life changed,” she said. “The Brianna I knew, that’s not me anymore. … It’s like sometimes my life was taken from me, and I had to learn to live as someone else. And that was really hard.”

When she entered Rowan County Early College, her goal was to get an associate of arts and an associate of science degree before moving to a four-year university to become a neonatal nurse. Her first two years at school she studied hard and earned straight A’s.

But after the accident her whole future was thrown up in the air. Her senior year, Brianna was going through multiple rehabilitation and therapy programs, suffered from a migraine and said she suffered from depression.

“I wasn’t sure if I was even going to graduate high school. I was at the point where I was either going to drop out of school or keep on going,” she said.

Each day, she said, she would wake up and her memories of the day before would be blank. She would go to eat breakfast, and then not remember if she had. Several times her parents would take her on vacation, but Brianna said she wouldn’t remember the trip at all.

Even her doctors and therapists weren’t sure if Brianna could make it to graduation day.

“They thought that maybe the best thing for me to do was to drop out or go back later and get my GED,” she said. “And that wasn’t what I wanted because that wasn’t me. I’ve never been the one to just give up on what I wanted or just not give up on my dream — because I knew I was going to regret.”

It’s that determination, that dream, that’s kept her going. She registered with disability services at Rowan-Cabarrus Community College, and worked with her school to get extra test time or open notes tests. She keeps detailed notes about her day and her assignments in her school planner, writes herself post-it notes in her car for errands, keeps a detailed calendar on her phone for appointments and takes pictures of everything.

Over time, her memory has slowly started to improve and recover — she’s even managed to hold down a part time job — but she still struggles. Friendships have been difficult to form and maintain. And when she takes tests, Brianna said she has to wake up early the day of the test and do all her studying then. If she studies the day before, she won’t retain the information.

“And after the test it’s all gone — everything I had in my head is gone,” she said.

Pursuing her dream was also difficult. Brianna used to dream of attending East Carolina University, but when it came time to apply it seemed like no college wanted her. Until she got a call from Pfeiffer University, a school she had applied to on the off-chance she’d be accepted.

“That was just a miracle to me, it seemed like, because no school wanted me,” she said.

She was accepted for Pfeiffer and given an $18,000 per year scholarship. She plans to enroll in the school’s nursing program, and pursue her dream — despite people telling her she can’t.

“It’s not worth giving up,” she said.

If anything, she’s more determined to become a nurse after her accident.

“I’ve had nurses who really helped me and really motivated me on days that I really needed it. …And that’s what I want to do for other people, to have that impact on their lives.”

She also said her family has been hugely supportive and helped her get through anxiety and rough patches. But it was her dream that kept her going — and now, she’s excited for the future.

“I learned that to achieve something you really want you have to fight for it. And that’s what I did,” she said.