In elementary school, I was a struggling student with poor self-esteem; I had trouble reading and barely passed first grade. Fortunately, I had a loving grandmother who valued education.
I grew up just outside of Philadelphia; my grandmother, Ellen Ward, lived in Ocean City, N.J., two hours away. I spent my summers with her — at the beach, the pool, the boardwalk.
My grandmother didn't get very far in school; she left after eighth grade to work and help support her family. Later, during the Great Depression, she raised four children while working day and night from home smocking dresses — that's a difficult and time-consuming embroidery technique that you don't often see these days. But she approached each day with a wonderful, positive attitude.
The summer I was 7, she encouraged me to read every day. That daily practice helped build my self-confidence and led me to love books. Slowly, as my reading skills improved, so did my grades. My grandmother's can-do attitude overpowered my fear of failure — and learning became a way of life for me.
My family moved to Vermont when I was 15. My confidence had grown, fueled by academic successes and my grandmother's unconditional love and encouragement. I graduated valedictorian of my high school class and went on to complete two bachelor's degrees, two master's degrees and, just recently, a PhD in nursing education.
My grandmother didn't live to see me graduate from nursing school. She was diagnosed with cancer and moved to Vermont while I attended the University of Vermont school of nursing; she died during my junior year. I helped take care of her in those last few years of her life. Even through her illness, she continued to encourage me to do my very best and to be my own person.
I've tried to follow her advice.
As a nurse, I was drawn to obstetrics; I've enjoyed a 26-year career working as an RN in the Birthing Center at Fletcher Allen Health Care. I feel fortunate to be able to help families during such a life-changing time and am thankful to have a job that I love.
I've also been teaching nursing at Vermont Technical College for 13 years. Just as my grandmother taught me to love learning, I hope to instill in my students a love for women's health and newborn care.
I married the man of my dreams, Butch DuPont, 23 years ago. We have two sons — Matthew, whose name means "God's gift," and John, named after my grandfather, John Ward. As they leave the nest, I look forward to filling it back up with grandchildren. I hope I can love and support them the way my grandmother loved and supported me.
The Vermont Children’s Trust Foundation supports statewide prevention programs for children and families to help give all kids a fair chance at success.
The Because Project asks Vermonters to share their stories about people and experiences that have shaped their lives, especially during their formative years — stories that may inspire others to get involved. Because together we can all make a difference.
Submit your stories for the Because Project! Email them to email@example.com. Submissions should be 300 to 600 words long and respond to the prompt "I am/decided to/learned to _________ because of __________." Kids VT will feature one of these stories in each issue.