Triumph through Tragedy

Leigh Ann Blanton is a 31-year-old Princeton native, who in 2009 decided to pursue her dream of earning her college degree. She found out about University of Mount Olive through a friend and co-worker and began pursuing her bachelor’s degree in management and organizational development.
Not long after enrolling Blanton was surprised to find out that she and her husband were going to be new parents.  They had always wanted to have a family, but had planned to wait until after Blanton had completed college.  “After the initial shock had worn off, I was the happiest I had been in a long time,” she said. However, her joy was short lived.  Blanton had a miscarriage in her second trimester and a subsequent pregnancy was deemed unviable.  Emotionally and physically drained, Blanton took a break from her classes to regroup and regain her strength.  She re-enrolled at MOC in August of 2010.  “I will have to say that not only my family, but also the group that made up my MOD class really helped me and encouraged me to finish this journey.”
Blanton got pregnant again and on July 29, 2011, she gave birth to a beautiful baby girl named Kailyn Ruth.  At ten days old Kailyn spiked a fever of 102.9 and was rushed to the emergency room in Smithfield, and from there was taken by ambulance to Wake Med PICU.  She had contracted bacterial meningitis.  “We ended up at Wake Med for 14 days and were so scared we were going to lose her,” Blanton said.  Blanton’s father-in-law was also hospitalized at the same time, and he later lost his battle to cancer.
“I had already contacted University of Mount Olive and told them I was going to have to take a break when Kailyn got sick.  However, after her sickness and the death of my father-in-law I just didn’t know how physically and emotionally I could do it, I was completely numb by this point.”
Things slowly started to settle down for Blanton and she enrolled in her last few classes for summer 2012.  Then her grandmother died and within months her husband’s grandfather passed away.  “Many times I wanted to give up and just forget dealing with school and everything else.  However, I knew I would not only disappoint myself, but also the people who had been supporting and believing in me.  I was determined, at this point, not to let anything stop me,” she said.  “I kept telling myself that through all of the trials, I had been blessed with a beautiful baby girl and I was now so close to completing a life-long dream of getting a degree!”
On November 25, when Blanton turned in her last assignment, she cried; but this time instead of tears of anguish or sorry, she cried tears of joy.  “On December 8th, I will walk across that stage, and all of the times I have been discouraged or felt defeated will be left behind and my dream will be realized.  I know I couldn’t have gotten through this without support from my husband, parents, mother-in-law, brother-in-law, my family and three special angels in heaven.  Also, I appreciate so much the support from the University of Mount Olive staff, especially from Mr. Reboli.  He has been a lifesaver and has helped me tremendously through this process.
This journey has been one of the hardest I have ever had in my life, but I feel like I have become and new person.  This degree and these challenges have completely changed my life and have also transformed me into someone who is ready to conquer the world, make an impact and face new career challenges.  I am blessed to have been given the opportunity and I just hope that my story will touch someone who may be struggling or thinking about giving up on this process.  Take it from me there are going to be trials and tribulations along the way but in the end it is so worth the feeling of accomplishment and pride!”
University of Mount Olive will graduate approximately 320 students at its 59th winter commencement on Saturday, December 8, 2012. Graduation exercises are scheduled for 2:00 p.m. in the George and Annie Dail Kornegay Arena. The commencement speaker will be Carl Kasell, judge and scorekeeper on National Public Radio’s weekly news quiz show, Wait Wait… Don’t Tell Me!
University of Mount Olive is a private institution rooted in the liberal arts tradition with defining Christian values. The College, sponsored by the Convention of Original Free Will Baptists, has locations in Mount Olive, New Bern, Wilmington, Goldsboro, Research Triangle Park, Washington and Jacksonville.  For more information, visit