Selena Thompson, a 2020 graduate of Halifax County High School, learned at an early age what it's like to care for someone with a serious illness.
Her mother, Beth Laitkep, had breast cancer and passed away when she was only 14 years old.
Now four years later, she looks forward to fulfilling her dream of becoming a nurse.
She plans to pursue a career as a nurse practitioner anesthesiologist (CRNA). She will attend community college then transfer to a four-year university, hopefully the University of North Carolina.
“I’m excited to complete my dreams. I’ve been wanting to be a nurse for years,” Thompson said. “I’ve always wanted to help people.”
Thompson has already had hands-on experience in nursing, in both her personal life and in her high-school curriculum. Her mother’s illness taught her how to deal with people who are ill.
“You have to keep them going, give them support. You have to provide them comfort,” said Thompson
The 18-year-old aspiring nurse also has been a nurturing, motherly figure to her younger siblings. She is the oldest of six blood-related siblings and the oldest of nine siblings total including the children from her adoptive family. After Beth’s passing, her friend Stephanie Culley adopted her six children.
“When my mom passed away, I promised her that I would take that lead. She called me ‘mother hen,’” Thompson said. When her siblings were younger, Thompson said one of them called her “mama.”
Being part of a large family helped Thompson and her siblings cope with the loss of their mother.
“We had each other to lean on,” she said.
Knowing that she is a role model to her younger siblings has motivated Thompson to do her best in school and pursue her dream of becoming a nurse.
“I have a bunch of people who look up to me and push me to do the best I can do,” Thompson said. “They look up to me and say they want to do the things that I do.”
Thompson got a head start on a career in nursing by taking a CNA class and a CPR class in high school. She said her CPR teacher Jennifer Compton and CNA teacher Samantha Clark encouraged and motivated her to do her best.
Thompson learned hands-on skills in a nursing home setting as part of the CNA class.
“We learned how to bathe people, feed them, take care of them, make a bed properly, how to transfer someone. We also got to watch them in the physical therapy room,” Thompson said.
Thompson gained other valuable skills in her internship with URW Credit Union. She learned about banking and handling money while working in the credit union inside Halifax County High School her 10th, 11th and 12th grade years.
Thompson also was a member of the junior varsity football cheerleading team in the 9th and 10th grade. She said she joined the team because of a promise that she made to her mom, who never got a chance to cheer.
“I had a good high school experience overall,” Thompson said.
Thompson’s senior year experience was different than she anticipated because of the COVID-19 pandemic, and graduation will be atypical, as well. She has not yet been able to take her test to earn her CPR certification because of the COVID-19 pandemic but is studying so she will be prepared when she does take the test.
Thompson also received a different graduation gift than the one she expected. Culley was planning on giving her adoptive daughter a cruise for graduation. She got her a puppy, a toy poodle named Bailey, instead.
As Thompson graduates from high school and moves on to the next phase in her life journey, making her late mother proud is always in the back of her mind.
“I feel like when I take those last steps and graduate, I’ll be making her proud,” Thompson said. “I keep her close to my heart.”