Students beat long odds with graduation


Contributed Photo | Zachary Locklear and his sister Kaitlyn Locklear received their diplomas from Purnell Swett High School 18 years after Zachary was pronounced dead at his birth.

Tierra Strickland, left, and her mother

LUMBERTON — As Tammy Smith watched her son Zachary cross the stage on Friday evening at the Purnell Swett High School graduation, it was a moment that at one time she thought might never happen.

“I thought about that moment when they came in my hospital room that morning and said my baby had died and I couldn’t see him. They said they resuscitated him and was sending him to Duke University Medical Center and the chances were slim. Now I know it was a miracle from God as I watched him receive his diploma. If you look at him today, you would not know he had any kind of medical condition,” said Smith.

When her son Zachary Blake Locklear was born in 1996, it was uncertain whether he would live. Zachary died two times after the Caesarian delivery. He went through four open-heart surgeries before the age of 18 and may have to undergo another. Smith says doctors said he would be a slow learner due to the fact he was on life support for so many days.

Today Zachary plays guitar each Sunday at church, but also plays the drum and piano. In May, Zachary graduated from the EMT Class at the Robeson Career Center. He will take the North Carolina EMT test next month to become certified as an EMT. He also plans to attend Robeson Community College Barber School and work as an EMT part-time. Zachary was just as excited to march across that stage and he marched with his sister Kaitlyn.

“It was a relief, considering the stuff I have been through. I never would have thought I would see this day, but I made it with the help of God,” Locklear said.

Terri Strickland also beamed with pride as she escorted her daughter Tierra across the stage at the Purnell Swett High School. Tierra was born in 1995 with a brain disorder called Hydrocephalus. Her skull had not completely closed when she was born and she also had fluid on her brain. Doctors put a shunt in her head. They told her mother that she would never walk. Tierra began school when she was 3 years old and only started to walk at 5 years of age. Tierra also graduated along side her bother Equistian.

“Ole God, I was so excited, I can’t even explain it,” Strickland said. “I was proud of both of them. I wanted to cry, but I was so excited I couldn’t. It has been a struggle and it has been hard on Tierra, but I am proud of both of them. It has been exceptionally hard on her, but we made it with the Lord’s help and family and friends.”

Tierra’s mother says she walks, talks and learns at her own pace. Her mother said she hopes Tierra will have an opportunity to attend an adult Special Needs program to learn more independence.

Zachary Locklear and Tierra Strickland graduated with almost 1,500 seniors from the Public Schools of Robeson County.

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