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Samuel Hoffman | The Journal Gazette
Shaletta Blanton sets up a surgical simulation lab at the University of Saint Francis. She will receive her associate degree in surgical technology during commencement exercises Saturday.

Graduation to the future

Saint Francis student sees education as ticket out of past

It’s been a long journey to graduation day for Shaletta Blanton.

It began when she moved to Fort Wayne, alone, at the age of 15.

Blanton put herself through high school and graduated from South Side High School in 2005.

She had her daughter, Kãlina, a month before her 19th birthday, and she took a job at a fast food restaurant to keep food on the table.

“It just wasn’t paying the bills,” Blanton explained. “I knew I had to do something.”

In 2007, she began working toward a degree in nursing.

But the journey doesn’t end Saturday, when the 26-year-old receives her associate degree in surgical technology from the University of Saint Francis.

Instead, she’ll soon return to class to pursue a bachelor’s degree.

Blanton and her classmates will graduate at 2 p.m. Saturday at Memorial Coliseum.

Growing up, Blanton came from a large family with lots of siblings – some half brothers and half sisters, some stepbrothers and stepsisters, and a couple of biological brothers.

Her mom stepped out of the picture when she was young, leaving her father to care for the children.

“Even from when I was pretty young, I knew I didn’t want to live like this,” Blanton said, referring to the sometimes-dangerous neighborhood where she grew up in Florida.

Blanton moved to Fort Wayne to start a new life for herself. She would be the only one of her siblings to graduate from high school.

But without the support of her family, even simple things became complicated.

There were days when she couldn’t afford to put fuel in her vehicle to drive to class.

Paying for food was a challenge.

And when her daughter got sick, it was almost too much.

But Blanton continued on her path to education, knowing it was her way out of the past and into a better future.

“I cry a lot, I pray a lot, and I stay strong and keep believing in myself,” she said.

She reached out to her University of Saint Francis academic adviser, Betsy Slagle, and together they worked out a plan to help her succeed.

Blanton decided to switch from nursing to an associate degree in surgical technology and later pursue a bachelor’s degree in business health management.

“Shaletta is one of those people who has to work very, very hard to get her grades,” Slagle said.

“She has worked so, so hard … but once she’s got it, she’s got it.”

Blanton’s motivation and maturity were evident from the start, but it took awhile to help grow her confidence, Slagle said.

“She’s grateful for any opportunity she has in any aspect of her life,” Slagle said.

“She has simple needs, and she’ll tell you she feels blessed for anything she achieves or anything she has available to her.”

Blanton continued to work hard, carrying a small notebook to jot down notes when she started a student position at Parkview Regional Medical Center, listening to an audio recording of medical terminology as she drove, and studying as many hours a day as she could manage.

And at last, she received word that she’d completed her classes and would graduate with an associate degree in May.

Although she’s proud of the work she’s done to reach graduation day, now 7-year-old Kãlina is the most excited, Blanton said.

Sure, she’ll be proud of her mom, but mostly, she’s been counting down the days until graduation because it means she gets a new furry friend.

“Yeah, I told her she could get a dog, so she’s pretty excited for me to graduate,” Blanton said with a laugh. “We’ve been talking about it for weeks.”