CHARLESTON — Amanda Letourneau will be the student speaker at her graduation tomorrow from the Community College of Vermont (CCV)-Newport, a joint virtual celebration with the Class of 2020 and Class of 2021.
In many ways she’s a model graduate, having overcome tremendous adversity and taking advantage of the convenience of a CCV education.
A lifetime resident of the NEK, Letourneau was a passenger in a tragic 2016 car accident that killed two of her friends.
“I spent a month in the hospital after that,” she said, the first of countless surgeries as part of her grueling recovery. In the end, complications, pain and infections led to the amputation of her leg in 2019.
At 31, Letourneau has been through a lot more than the average person. While she was in recovery, she decided to use the time to go back to school. The accessibility of online classes is just what the doctor ordered.
“All of my classes were online… so I was able to recover and get my CCV time in, which was really great,” she said.
She still had her leg when she enrolled in a study-abroad opportunity in Belize.
“I was like I am probably going to amputate my leg but I really want to go on this trip to Belize,” she said. “I didn’t say anything about my leg…”
She was chosen for the trip and then had her leg amputated in September 2019.
“Our first class for that trip was 10 days after my amputation, so I had a friend wheel me into this class, to a class of 20 people and my professor also didn’t know I was showing up with no leg … they all looked at me like I was crazy, and I was like, don’t worry, I’ll be ready. The trip was like in four months, the trip was in the beginning of January.”
Getting ready for Belize was motivational for Letourneau.
“In the description for this trip it said you have to have the ability to walk seven miles a day … so I was like, sure I can do that, no problem, so that’s what I did, and January came and I had a (prosthetic) leg,” she said.
Letourneau said she told the doctors when she had her major surgery about her trip, “We’re going to try to make it happen, so work with me on this so I can get healing,” she told them. “It was a big motivator.”
“After that trip to Belize, we spent five days on an island where we snorkeled and explored this very remote area, we didn’t have hot water … it was pretty interesting for me, I was only four months post the amputation, and I had not been swimming or anything like that. It was definitely a bit of a learning curve … I was like do I need to wear a life jacket, am I going to drown?!”
Letourneau said, “For the second half of the trip, we were in the rain forest and we were right next to a river, and at that point, I was like, okay, my confidence was building up in my ability to be able to swim without a life jacket, and that was really good.”
The group of CCV students visited with local school children in Belize and she took off her prosthetic for the kids to see, she experienced “lots of different things,” on the all-important trip. “People were very nervous about me going on the trip.”
She said the CCV President, Joyce Judy, called her to see what she needed.
The trip changed her perspective and it changed her life, “I knew if I could do the trip, I could do anything, that it would boost my spirits.”
On Saturday, she will earn her degree in liberal arts, an associate’s degree. She said she has been struggling a little trying to decide what to do next, and with working in the school system she’s been thinking about completing her bachelor’s degree and becoming a teacher.
She has been substitute teaching recently in the North Country Supervisory Union and is presently on her way to Utah to become a certified adaptive scuba diving instructor.
She said the crash and her injury taught her to live life to the fullest. Though it’s not without struggles.
“I have fallen on it multiple times, it hurts. It kicks you off of your prosthetic for quite some time, like a week or so and it feels like the worst bruise that you’ve ever gotten. I still need surgeries every once in awhile. I’ll have to have another surgery this fall. I’m trying to be active as much as I can.”
Letourneau said, “Every time I have surgery on my leg, it’s a month of healing and I have to get a new leg made … it’s all a process, it’s all been a process. I’m definitely still figuring out my life. I definitely do not have everything together. One of my other things that is kind of important to me and I’m still feeling it out of how to go about it.”
She described herself as a girly girl and farm girl who loved to wear heels and cowboy boots, shoe styles she can no longer wear, “It’s a little mentally hard sometimes. When I want to get dressed up and feel good, on the other hand, you can’t dress your feet up to match it.”
“I’m hoping to gain some knowledge on this little venture I’m going on, it is for disabled people so it will be interesting,” she said of her trip to Utah. “We’re also doing this ropes-type thing.”
Letourneau said of her trip, “I”m camping, I’ve got my tent. I can set it up myself.”
Of being chosen to be the class speaker, Letourneau said of the virtual graduation, “I will be able to watch it from my campsite.”
“It feels pretty good, like I said, I do not have all my stuff together, I’ve never been the valedictorian or the smartest person ever or anything like that so for them to recognize how much hard work I have been putting into it, it feels really good to be recognized for my hard work,” said Letourneau of the crash - which occurred over Memorial Day weekend, five years ago.
Of the timing, she said, “It doesn’t feel like it was five years ago … and in other senses, it seems like, ‘Oh my gosh what I have done in five years.’ It’s something I always think about, my thing is I’m trying to live my best life for Ryan and Charlene who died, that’s kind of my motto, just trying to do better because I lived and I feel like I do better because I did live - I need to do better for them.”