When Alexandra Hemmings walks up on stage on Commencement Day at the University of New Haven on May 13, she will celebrating not only earning a bachelor’s degree but also triumphing over a number of serious physical, emotional, financial and family problems.
When she was 15, Hemmings’ mother decided she was not able to care for her and gave up custody. The Connecticut Department of Children, Youth and Families placed Hemmings, who left home with only the clothes she was wearing, in a foster home, then a shelter and then a group home.
Yet, she never gave up her idea of going to college. When others at the shelter watched television or played games, she buried herself in schoolbooks.
“I always told myself not going to college was not an option,” she says. “I have an independent streak and I had to grow up early. But nothing was going to stop me.”
Hemmings graduated from the Greater Hartford Classical Magnet School and attended two years of Manchester Community College before transferring to UNH. “I like the UNH campus,” she says, “and it is a close-knit community.”
A music major and saxophone player, Hemmings has also overcome physical and psychological problems. She has Type II Diabetes and was sick for nearly a year before doctors removed her gall bladder last summer. Issues related to her abandonment also resulted in depression and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.
“My professors were very understanding and helped me throughout,” she says. But as if that weren’t enough, she was also diagnosed with a learning disability called Dyscalculia, which UNH has helped her to manage.
Hemmings, however, has not only soldiered on, she has given back. This month, as part of her senior thesis presentation, Hemmings hosted “For the Love of Hip Hop,” a week of events centered around hip hop music and culture. She is a Dream Mentor for three UNH freshmen with disabilities, two of them on the autism spectrum.
“I love my kids,” she says. “I learn from them and I think I have helped them out, too. They are doing so much better than they were at the beginning of the year.”
Graduation for Hemmings will not be an ending. She has been accepted into a master’s program in student affairs at Canisius College in Buffalo, New York.
“I have met a lot of good people here at UNH, and I have grown a lot. It is going to be hard to say goodbye to a very familiar place,” she says. “But my journey is not over.”