2009 Distinguished Alumni Recipient

Melissa (Misty) Cromer spent the final six years of her public school career in Special Education. She remembers that it was “all about behaving yourself” and that she felt embarrassed around the “regular kids.” Had she stayed to graduate, her diploma would have been in Special Ed. Melissa didn’t stay.

Melissa Cromer had a dream. She wanted to be a photographer, in charge of her own studio. As she haunted the Internet in search of advice, a wise photographer counseled her to seek out an education before she tried anything else. Thus Melissa entered Adult Education and Marsha Kaplan, an adjunct professor at Northwest Florida State College.

“When I first started working with her, there was a dearth of vocabulary and simple concepts. Melissa didn’t know directions—or what a continent was. She read a little to her children but didn’t read much beyond that”, said Kaplan. “In spite of this, Melissa was determined to get a high school diploma—and to get it without any special accommodations. Melissa, in fact, turned out to be the most determined student I have ever met.”

Through the Even Start home visiting program, Kaplan and Cromer worked together for four years. As Melissa became ready, she took her GED subtests one by one. Sometimes she would make the forty-five minute trip to Kaplan’s house on a Sunday in order to get in more review. After passing three of the five subtests, Melissa was impatient to finish and surprised Kaplan by taking the last two tests on her own. One afternoon, Kaplan arrived home to find Melissa and her children waiting on her back porch.
Cromer threw her arms around Kaplan, exclaiming. “I passed my GED! I signed up on my own, and I made everyone in the office promise not to tell.”

When Melissa put on her cap and gown, her parents, her husband, and all three of her children were there to see it. There was no stopping Melissa after that! She signed up for college immediately, cornering her first instructor before the start of class to announce, “You’d better be there every day—because I will!”

In the spring of 2006, Melissa Cromer graduated from Okaloosa-Walton College with an Associate of Applied Science degree in graphics technology. Along the way, she had also acquired a certificate in digital media multimedia production with honors, a certificate in digital media multimedia authoring with high honors, and was on the Dean’s List several times. One of Melissa’s remarkable photographs had been published in the Blackwater Review. She had also been commissioned to photograph a mother and breastfeeding baby; this sensitive picture graced a billboard in Navarre until a hurricane took it out.

Today, Melissa is the proud owner of Cherish Photos by Misty in Crestview, Florida.

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