December 11, 2017 – Courtney Wright admits she wanted to give up on graduate school after Hurricane Harvey. Floodwater destroyed everything she owned except for a bag of clothes and a lone textbook she grabbed before evacuating the north Houston home she shared with her parents, brother and 5-year-old nephew.
But Wright, a master’s student at the University of Houston College of Education, is used to pushing through challenges. In eighth grade, she battled leukemia and managed to miss only a month of school, scheduling chemotherapy appointments on Friday afternoons.
So in the weeks after Harvey, Wright borrowed a cousin’s car to drive to campus, used her aunt’s computer to do schoolwork and kept reminding herself of her dream to be a counselor – in honor of youngsters who have lost their lives to cancer.
As Wright prepares to graduate on December 15, she said she’s looking forward to celebrating with family. “We’re trying to really pump up graduation, and Christmas, and bring that joy back,” she said.
Wright, 28, and her family have been living with an aunt in Atascocita for more than three months since the storm struck in late August. Their house, which backs Halls Bayou, is likely a total loss after taking in at least four feet of water.
“We were there until we couldn’t be there anymore,” Wright recalled. “When the water was getting to about three feet, we went into my car. Our house was just a mess. The refrigerator fell over. Everything was floating.”
Wright and her nephew were rescued by a stranger on a Jet Ski. And her mom walked through chest-deep floodwater with her brother, carrying their 11-year-old dog, Ellie, in a plastic storage container, to meet them.
The family is struggling to find a new place with so many other Houstonians searching, too.
“I feel like people have forgotten and kind of moved on (after Harvey),” Wright said, “but there are still those of us in the throes of trying to get our lives back together.”
Rachael Whitaker, one of Wright’s professors and director of the College of Education's counseling program, said she was impressed by Wright’s resilience before and after Harvey.
“I tell my students all the time, 'The bravest thing you can ever do is owning your story,'” Whitaker said, drawing on the work of author and UH social work professor Brené Brown. "Courtney is a walking example of that, and she's channeling that to help others."
Interested in the nonprofit sector in high school, Wright went to the UH Bauer College of Business and earned a degree in entrepreneurship in 2013. After working with cancer patients at a camp run by the Periwinkle Foundation, she decided she wanted to study counseling.
Through the College of Education's couseling program, she gained more real-world experience that confirmed her passion. She completed her practicum at Bo’s Place, a nonprofit bereavement center in Houston, and did a fellowship at Blackshear Elementary School, shadowing a social worker and working with students sent to in-school suspension.
“I’ve always wanted to help people,” said Wright, adding that her dream job is working as a counselor at a hospital or serving low-income minority youth.
While she’s planned a graduation party, Wright said she’s already thinking about her next challenge: preparing for the National Counselor Examination.
Editor's note: The fall 2017 graduation ceremony for the UH College of Education will take place December 15 at 2 p.m. The fall graduating class includes about 265 students, including undergraduates and graduates.
–By Ericka Mellon
–Photos courtesy of Courtney Wright
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