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Emily Hamilton

Emily Hamilton 2023-02-08T13:20:19+00:00

Photo of Emily Hamilton

Emily Hamilton

Never Give Up

BAS Student Doesn’t Let Brain Injury Stop Her From Pursuing Her Dream.

One step.

It was one wrong step onto one wet leaf that forever altered Highline College student Emily Hamilton’s life. It was a step that led to a serious slip and fall down a flight of stairs in 2014, causing Hamilton to suffer a traumatic brain injury that still affects her to this day.

“In a matter of seconds, I lost my independence, my career and the life I had built,” Hamilton, 38, said. “Fighting for my physical health, I was often dependent on others. That forced dependency led to very difficult times, including an abusive relationship and being homeless.”

But that step was also the first of many that would eventually lead Hamilton to Highline College, studying for her Bachelor of Applied Science in global trade and logistics, and actively involved in taking back her life.

Hamilton came to Highline College in winter 2020 with the intention of filling her resume gap by earning a degree that would lead to a career that could provide financial independence. She chose Highline, specifically, for its robust Access Services, which supports and assists students with disabilities through campus and classroom accommodations.

By the time she enrolled, Hamilton had already been living with her injury for six years. Yet, in that timeframe, she had encountered doctors, neurologists, chiropractors, therapists, cranial sacral adjustments, MRIs, CT scans, blood work, nerve blocks, nasal injections, Botox, diet changes, meditations and medications to try to fix the symptoms she experienced.

“Finding a good neurologist was the first turning point; as she helped me navigate the pain and discover terms for my symptoms,” Hamilton recalled, adding that she experienced debilitating migraines, couldn’t adjust between distances without help and that textures, colors, depths and text blurred together.

It took her four years to relearn how to read and retain information –– a success she attributes to reading and reciting poetry with a dictionary nearby.

But as she slowly recovered, she still found herself reliant on others since she wasn’t yet able to work.

“While I knew that my disability made me physically vulnerable, I wish I had known it would make me susceptible to those around me,” Hamilton wrote in an Arcturus essay. “I obtained a second concussion from my head being slammed into a glass door by a family member.”

That experience and other unsafe living conditions caused her to make a decision.

“I realized being homeless was safer than being around those I thought I could trust,” she wrote adding that she spent 10 months living out of her car.

In fact, Hamilton was homeless when she first began at Highline.

“I was often on campus for 12 hours, studying at the computer lab, sleeping in my car or on friends’ couches,” she said, noting that being a homeless student has many silent obstacles, including “hunting down documents and paperwok lost in moves.”

Highline’s While In-School Housing (WISH) program began the same quarter Hamilton started at Highline and, fortunately, she was among the first to be selected to receive its benefits.

WISH is a housing program for Highline College students experiencing homelessness. Students who are accepted into the program receive a Housing Choice Voucher from the King County Housing Authority (KCHA) for a maximum of 4.5 years. Students who are enrolled in WISH can select any apartment or home that accepts Section-8 vouchers as a method of payment throughout the KCHA jurisdiction.

With a new residence in Federal Way and educational support at Highline College, Hamilton shifted from surviving to thriving.

“WISH provided me with stability; that stability helped me to transition out of fight vs flight and allowed me the opportunity to continue healing,” Hamilton said. “The program and the advisors have also helped me feel like I’m not alone.”

Hamilton felt supported by Highline instructors and staff, specifically Laura Manning, Susan Rich, Deb Moore, Prairie Brown and Cathy Cartwright.

She got involved in student life activities, becoming an Arcturus editor, joining the National Poetry Committee, volunteering for the Highline College Foundation, traveling with the Follow the Supply Chain Study Abroad program to Vietnam, working as an ambassador for the Highline Community Pantry and the Services and Activities (S&A) Budget Committee.

“Highline has helped me learn not only that I can trust others, but that I can trust myself as well,” Hamilton said. “It’s a caring community, everyone wants to see you succeed. You get out of it, what you put into it.”

Hamilton expects to earn her bachelor’s degree by spring 2024. And while she’s still figuring out what she will do after that, she hopes to find a career that will enable her to have financial independence.

“Highline has helped me to realize I have many hidden skills I was previously unaware of,” she said. “[The] BAS in global trade and logistics allows me to strengthen and utilize many of those skills.”

After college, Hamilton also has plans to become a Certified Public Accountant so that she can one day help other women learn financial independence as well.

Learn more about Highline’s BAS in Global Trade & Logistics.