LUMBERTON — Six years ago Gabriella Strickland was told she would never walk again, but on Friday she and 1,476 Public Schools of Robeson County seniors will stroll across the stage to collect their diplomas at several graduation ceremonies across the county.
“I think that she is just a big trooper,” said Strickland’s mother, Stacy. “She basically had to fight to get where she is at today.”
Strickland, an 18-year-old who will be graduating from Lumberton Senior High School, will be moving on to study Criminal Justice at Fayetteville Technical Community College. She said she chose the field because she wanted to give back to the community that gave to her after she was in an accident that left her severely injured and her father dead.
“Everybody came together to help me and support me through the time,” Strickland said. “They came together and they supported me, they pushed me. They were helping me and guiding me, and I want to do the same back. I want to give what I got back.”
It was in 2013 that Strickland and her parents, Frank and Stacy Strickland, were detoured to Barker Ten Mile Road and collided head-on with a vehicle that drifted into their lane.
“He was late for work and trying to pass cars, but the cars wouldn’t let him back over into his lane,” Gabriella said.
The 12-year-old Strickland was airlifted to UNC Hospitals with internal bleeding and several broken bones. She also had a brain injury that caused memory loss.
”I broke almost all of the bones in my body,” Strickland said. “I have rods in both legs and both arms.
“I couldn’t do anything for myself. I was basically living off of machines.”
After emergency surgery and weeks of recovery, Strickland was faced with the battle of learning everyday tasks, such as how to walk. Strickland said doctors told her she may never walk again, but after returning home in a wheelchair, she built up the strength to walk using a walker.
She does not use the walker anymore, but scars remain.
“I still suffer from all of the injuries and it shows to this day,” Strickland said. “It has affected me mentally and emotionally.”
Strickland’s high school years were a struggle. After making the soccer team and playing for three years, she was told that her knee could not take the strain. She tore her ACL and MCL and wore a leg brace for months during her junior year.
“They told me that if I continued to play, I would have to have a knee replacement by the age of 25,” Strickland said. “I decided to keep my knee.”
Her studies also suffered.
“It takes me a little longer to get to where I need to get to because of my brain injuries,” Strickland said. “Like with my studying. I lose focus more and I get distracted easier.”
Despite the struggles, Strickland will be graduating this Friday alongside her peers.
“That’s even bigger to me because I will be the first one in my family to actually walk across the stage and get my diploma,” she said. “It’s gonna be very emotional for me.”
”I’ve been very emotional this whole week,” Stacey said.
This summer, Strickland will be volunteering for teen court to learn more about the criminal justice system. In two years she hopes to move on to Fayetteville State University and someday become a detective.
Six graduation ceremonies across the county are on Friday, at Lumberton and Purnell Swett high schools, The University of North Carolina at Pembroke and Robeson Community College. Forty-two Early College High School seniors graduated on May 24 during a ceremony in Robeson Community College’s A.D. Lewis Auditorium.
Many of the high school graduates will continue to celebrate at Project Graduation, which is scheduled for 8 p.m. Friday to 2 a.m. Saturday at UNCP. For the past 32 years, Project Graduation night has been an event dedicated to creating safe, drug- and alcohol-free and fun-filled evening for seniors.
The graduation celebration features free food, music, games and a host of other entertainment. The night is capped off with door prizes provided by various businesses, and a $700 scholarship going to a senior from each school. The scholarships are sponsored by the United Way of Robeson County. There also will be a performance by hypnotist Bryan Imbus.
The six graduation ceremonies have been scheduled for Friday as follows:
— St. Pauls High School, 9 a.m. at The University of North Carolina at Pembroke’s Givens Performing Arts Center. There are 197 expected graduates.
— South Robeson High School, 10 a.m. at Robeson Community College’s A.D. Lewis Auditorium. There are 107 expected graduates.
— Lumberton High School, 10 a.m. in the school’s gymnasium. There are 483 expected graduates.
— Fairmont High School, 12:30 p.m. in UNCP’s Givens Performing Arts Center. There are 162 expected graduates.
— Red Springs High School, 2 p.m. in RCC’s A.D. Lewis Auditorium. There are 165 expected graduates.
— Purnell Swett High School, 4 p.m. at UNCP’s Givens Performing Arts Center. There are 363 expected graduates.
The names of all the graduates will be published in The Robesonian on Saturday.
In 2013, Grabriella Strickland had to relearn how walk after being involved in an accident that left her severely injured and her father dead. The now 18-year-old senior will graduate from Lumberton Senior High School on Friday.
Gabriella Strickland, 18, will walk across the stage and collect her diploma Friday at Lumberton Senior High School. She will be a first-generation high school graduate.