FALL RIVER, Mass. (WPRI) ─ Hardworking is just one way to describe Bristol Community College graduate Katherine Haley.
The valedictorian of her class is now on her way to Brown University.
But her journey to get to where she is now wasn’t an easy one.
Haley tells 12 News both of her parents struggled with addiction, and she unfortunately followed in their footsteps.
“They both passed when I was just 24,” Haley recalled. “I found myself homeless without a job, without prospects. No hope at all for the future.”
Haley said she first started using pills, but she was eventually led her down the dark path to heroin and fentanyl.
She knew she had to turn her life around before it was too late.
“It was a very cold April and I had nowhere else to go,” Haley recalled. “I was so socially unacceptable even other addicts didn’t want me around them at that point, and finally, I wanted a warm place to sleep and three meals a day.”
“I went to treatment not really expecting to get clean,” she continued.
But that’s exactly what she did.
“I think I was less than 100 days clean and I decided to sign up for Bristol Community College,” she said.
Haley said reading books during her recovery helped her escape her dark past, but it wasn’t until she walked into a classroom that she realized what she’d been missing.
“While I can learn so much from a library, it can only take me so far,” she said.
And the honor came with one major surprise she wasn’t expecting.
“I go into the Zoom room expecting to meet the editor-in-chief, and Dr. Jill Biden was sitting there and I couldn’t even comprehend that this was real, I didn’t understand what was happening,” she said.
It was a moment Haley said she will never forget, and further motivated her to pay it forward.
Haley hopes to harness her education to make changes in the mental health and addiction communities.
“If you drive down in certain parts of Providence or down Massachusetts Ave in Boston, a lot of people will look the people that live on the street that are in active addiction as lost causes, the drugs of society,” she said. “When I drive by those same streets, I see future lawyers, future doctors, future nurses and future valedictorians, because those are all people I have met in recovery, so we need to show more compassion toward those people.”
Haley starts at Brown University this fall and is currently chronicling her journey in a memoir she’s titled “Ivy League.”