Tragedy prompts mom to go to college for the first time
Every morning, Lorna Beckford wakes up with inescapable grief.
Beckford has dealt with the pain since 2008, when her son, Derron, died in a motorcycle crash in Lake Worth at age 22. At the time, he was a Palm Beach State College student majoring in business. He left behind his mother, father Stephen, as well as three brothers, Kerrick, Steve and Troy.
“Derron would always encourage me to go to PBSC,” said Beckford, who grew up in Jamaica and received a GED at age 45 from the Adult Education Center of Palm Beach.
Lorna didn’t have plans to attend PBSC. However, after his death and a little help from Derron’s former girlfriend, Merlinn Jean, things changed.
“Merlinn came over to my house one day and got me in the car and simply said ‘that’s it, we are going to PBSC.’ I agreed because I knew that is what Derron would have wanted me to do. His dream of earning a degree was passed to me.”
Beckford is among more than 2,700 students who will receive degrees and certificates from Palm Beach State College this term. She will don a cap and gown Dec. 19 at the 2 p.m. ceremony for the 1,567 graduates of the Associate in Arts transfer degree. A separate ceremony for graduates of the Associate in Science, Bachelor of Applied Science and Bachelor of Science degree programs and the certificate programs will be held at 10 a.m. at the Palm Beach County Convention Center. Both ceremonies will be streamed live.
Beckford started taking classes in 2013 with the idea of pursuing a career in social work. However, after speaking with an advisor, she decided to focus on nursing and took all the prerequisites required for the field. Next fall, she plans to pursue an Associate in Science degree in nursing.
Beckford was not just a college student for the first time at age 46, she was also juggling two jobs as a certified nursing assistant at St. Mary’s Medical Center and Edgewater at Boca Pointe retirement community for all four years she took classes.
Her degree completion, however, almost didn’t happen. A year after her classes began at PBSC in 2014, Beckford received more traumatic news. Her son, Troy, lost both of his legs in a motorcycle crash at just 19 years old. The day she learned of the incident was an all-too-familiar scene: police coming to her home, asking her to sit down and notifying her of what happened.
Although she was extremely grateful he lived, the pain of Derron’s death coupled with the hard road she knew Troy would face adjusting to a life with no legs was at times unbearable.
“I wanted to quit PBSC at that point,” Beckford said. “It was terrible. A lot of days I just didn’t want to get out of bed.”
Beckford, however, pushed through the pain. One of her instructors, Astrid Whidden, encouraged her to stay.
“She really pushed me to stick it out,” Beckford said. “I really appreciated her support, and I’m glad that I stayed. All of my PBSC professors were awesome and accommodating in helping me reach my goals.”
Troy, who is also currently a PBSC student, can relate to his mother’s journey as he himself is trying to adjust to a new life while taking classes.
He had his left leg amputated above the knee, the other below. At the hospital, he pushed through physical therapy and was released in less than a month after the crash.
“I don’t even believe I’m really back to normal yet,” he said. “Losing my legs has obviously been devastating for me, but what keeps me going is my incredibly supportive family and friends who keep my spirit up.”
Troy, who plans to transfer to the University of Alabama to pursue a career in motivational speaking, was a receiver on the Santaluces High School football team. After the crash, one of his former high school instructors hosted a fundraiser in Lake Worth so he could get prosthetic legs. He now uses those legs along with a wheelchair.
Beckford says that through it all, she has still found a way to keep smiling. “If I’m hurting, you won’t know it,” she says.
She hopes others who are considering quitting school because of grief will reconsider.
“Quitting is not the solution,” Beckford said. “It is okay if someone wants to take a semester off but it’s important to remember that you can’t just sit back and feel sorry for yourself all the time. It won’t help you. Getting back into life no matter how hard will.”