ALBANY, N.Y. (NEWS10) — Kashon Holmes was just like any other student fresh out of high school and ready for a bright future ahead of him.
“I always wanted to be a nurse. I love people. I love seeing them be happy and healthy, so if I can be a part of that, it’s truly an honor,” Kashon says.
He first enrolled as a Maria College nursing student back in 2002 after having his first son, Kashon Jr., but in the middle of tests and challenging prerequisite courses, a new challenge arose in 2003 — he learned his second son was already on the way less than a year in. Kashon had to decide, could he balance being a father of two and becoming a nursing student?
“I tell people nursing school will not be cheated on. You need to be 100 percent in, or it’s not going to work out,” he explains to NEWS10’s Mikhaela Singleton.
So Kashon decided his 100 percent needed to be focused on his coming child. He says giving up on his dream was the easiest, and at the same time, the hardest decision he ever had to make.
“Knowing that I had to take care of my son and raise him and everything, that wasn’t a hard decision. I’m going to take care of my son, but you know, I always knew that I felt a little incomplete,” he admits.
From there, he describes a life of odd jobs — a security guard here, a school hall monitor there — just to keep both his sons well cared for. He even moved up to coach both his eldest and second son’s wrestling and football teams in order to stay active in their lives.
But as they got older, and he did too, he decided it wasn’t too late to give nursing another shot.
“They were settled, and I thought I could be a good example for them in the house, studying every day,” Kashon says.
So Kashon became a Maria College nursing student again in 2017. He got very, very close to graduation day, but then the pandemic hit. It threw him and his classmates for a loop — how would they get their clinical hours where they needed to learn on the job?
“It was very difficult in the beginning,” admits Jessica Napoli-McNally, the Maria College director of clinical experience for nursing. “Hospitals weren’t ready to except students, because of the pandemic cases that they had. They didn’t want to expose the students, understandably, and they had enough to deal with so we had to get creative.”
Fortunately, it was local COVID-19 vaccine sites to the rescue. Nicole Pollay is the operations manager for the Rensselaer County vaccine site at Hudson Valley Community College. She was more than happy to welcome a few extra hands on deck, including Kashon.
“So many of them were nervous, because they weren’t sure that they were going to be able to graduate until they were able to obtain those clinical hours, so the appreciation and the gratitude that they expressed when they get here each morning is something that still gives me the chills, because they’re just so thankful to be here,” Pollay says.
“And they kind of like adopted me, and I’ve been here for all of my 64 hours which you’re allowed to do,” Kashon adds.
It wasn’t a guaranteed easy ride. Vaccinating thousands of people, sometimes all in one day, gave these students a run for their money.
“Very straight to the fire, like when one leaves, the next one’s coming in and the approach that you’ve had with the last person may be totally different from the person that you’re getting now,” Kashon explains.
At the end of the day, though, he says this was the best way to teach him how to interact with patients and reminded him why he wants to be a nurse.
“You’re really helping people in their moments of need, and it’s really just a gift to be able to do that,” Kashon says.
Until finally, the moment of truth when on May 22, just before noon, Kashon and his classmates participated in their nursing school’s “White Tea” ceremony where they earned their college pins and went from students to alumni.
“They really put themselves at risk to help fight the pandemic, and I couldn’t be prouder of this group,” says Napoli-McNally.
Waiting to congratulate Kashon on the end of his 18-year journey, his family who couldn’t be prouder of his perseverance, including his youngest son Jashon.
“I feel proud of him. He worked his butt off. He always was stressed, and like, he managed to do my wrestling and do school,” Jashon shared through tears.
“I love him, he’s good, it’s just been hard, but we’re done,” Kashon said while comforting Jashon. “It was a struggle for everybody out here. Everybody has their story, but you know, this definitely was a good one.”