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Samantha Abrahamsen '14

DREAMing Big

Samantha Abrahamsen of nearby Rutland, Vt., is a psychology major with an ambitious and altruistic future on the horizon. She will earn her degree in psychology at the close of the spring 2014 semester and she has already been accepted to graduate school at the University of New Hampshire.

Green Mountain College’s infectious energy caught Samantha by happenstance. “They always talked about Castleton College at my high school,” she said, “I went to the pub one night after moving to Poultney to be closer to my job, and I met a bunch of GMC students. After that, I thought GMC would be a better fit,” she said. Samantha plans on using her degree as a stepping-stone for a masters or doctorate in social work. “My big goal is to go on and work with children with cancer in hospitals,” she said. “Psychology is the backbone for a graduate-school social work degree.”

Samantha has personal experience with cancer—she was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL) when she was 22 months old. At the time, doctors told Samantha’s parents that their daughter was not likely to live beyond preschool age. Things were looking up when, after successful treatments at Fletcher Allen Hospital in Burlington, she entered her seventh year of remission, the “magic number” for beating ALL. But just short of her 10th birthday she fainted in the shower and broke her spine. The cancer had returned.

The difficulty in keeping up with school between treatments and ignorance about the disease among her peers led to social awkwardness and isolation. Two people came to the fore: a social worker who helped Samantha talk through her problems and kept up her spirits, and her physician, who came to her high school to deliver a talk about cancer—its indiscriminate nature, the hopeful advances in treatment, and the bravery of patients who faced it head on.

Samantha’s classmates took the lesson to heart, presenting her with a bag filled with 7,000 paper cranes. (The tradition of making origami cranes for people with cancer dates back at least to Sadako Sasaki, a Japanese girl who developed leukemia after being exposed to radiation from the Hiroshima atomic bomb).

Samantha has now been free of the disease for eleven years. She wears a small tattoo of a crane, and uses every opportunity to help children with cancer. She has worked for several summers at Ta-Kum-Ta, a summer camp for children in Vermont and upstate New York who are coping with the disease.

At GMC, Samantha is an active member of DREAM club. “I’m co-chair of the club at the moment, and I interned for DREAM over the summer at their headquarters in South Burlington. We pull kids from low-income housing and bring them onto campuses and talk about attending college, play fun activities and teach and mentor them,” she said.

After earning her masters degree, she plans on doing work in a hospital to get her footing. Then, she aspires to open her own children’s hospital specifically focused on kids with cancer. “I hope to have it be free of charge to patients; St. Jude’s does that now, and they work solely through donations. I want mine to be like St. Jude’s, but also have school and fun activities.

“When kids are in the hospital, they lose their childhood. I’d like them to still have a school year and be able to have fun, even though they can’t leave the hospital,” she said.

By Tim Halteman ‘15

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