It wasn’t so long ago that Katherine Haley awoke in rehab, alone, miles from her hometown in New Hampshire with nothing but a scary and uncertain future.
She had no money, no high school diploma and nowhere to go. Both her parents had passed away, having struggled with addiction. Katie was in detox from years of using everything from opiates to dangerous synthetic drugs.
“I had been using for a long time,” Katie said. “I used a lot after my parents died.”
What Katie did have was an inspiration to do more and to do better – maybe from the years that she loved learning and going to school, maybe from her mom who read poetry to Katie as a child, or her dad who gave her a love for science.
Whatever it was, Katie went from homeless and addicted, to a young woman with a college degree and a bright future ahead.
When Katie received her Associate in Arts in liberal arts & sciences, psychology transfer, from Bristol Community College in 2021, it was a “surreal” experience to not only graduate but to do so as class valedictorian.
“It was bittersweet,” she said with a catch in her voice. “I wished my parents were there to tell me they’re proud of me. They would have loved this.”
Just three short years from her dark days in active addiction, Katie, 29, is a student at Brown University: “something I never thought would happen,” she said.
Katie was also named the Glamour Magazine Community College Woman of the Year for 2021. The news was shared with her by First Lady Dr. Jill Biden in a surprise Zoom call. She calls this one of the most inspirational moments of her lifetime that would not have been possible if not for Bristol.
Katie hopes to inspire others who may have doubts about obtaining a college degree. She credits Bristol for giving her a “second chance” at education and its dedication to creating access to education for everyone.
“What other school would have taken me?” Katie said. “I had nothing. I failed high school. My only community service was court-ordered.”
Katie was living in a sober house at five months clean when she got the courage to apply to Bristol. She was thrilled at the chance, but she had other worries.
“My concern was how much would it cost,” she said. “I had no money.”
Katie received a Pell Grant, MASSGrant and a tuition waiver from Mass Rehab to begin her education at Bristol. She remembers thinking: “I can go. I can go for free.”
Katie was able to continue her education the following year with CARES Act funding through Bristol and Foundation scholarships for merit that “helped me focus on school and work less.”
At Bristol, Katie excelled and reignited her love for education. She maintained a perfect GPA and became a student leader in addiction and homelessness issues. Katie served as the Recording Officer of the Phi Theta Kappa Honor Society. She was a student advocate on the National Community College Funding Committee and a Commonwealth Honors Program Scholar who researched how the addiction recovery community responded to the COVID-19 pandemic.
She designed a mentorship program for students in need of additional support at Bristol and volunteered for the college’s monthly Mobile Food Market, in partnership with the Greater Boston Food Bank.
"Bristol gave me a second chance that no other school would have given me.”
In the community, Katie volunteered at the River to Recovery substance abuse recovery program in Fall River.
“Bristol gave me a second chance that no other school would have given me,” Katie said. “They were kind and compassionate.”
Katie, who lives in Fall River with her 20-pound cat Murphy, commutes to Brown University and works part time. She is currently studying psychology and English and plans to pursue a Ph.D. in psychology in the future. Katie also has literary aspirations and is working on a memoir of her life experiences. She has had several pieces published in The Boston Globe.
“My mom would say ‘I always knew you could do it,’” Katie said.