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Jailhouse realization inspires Samantha Gunter to change her life

Aug 16 2019
Student wearing graduation cap and gown accepts diploma from college president
ABOVE: Samantha Gunter of Cherokee accepts her High School Equivalency from Dr. Don Tomas, Southwestern Community College President. BELOW: Jackson County residents who received their High School Equivalencies from Southwestern Community College on July 11 in Sylva were, from left: Randall Jared McCall of Sylva, Latyra Maney of Cherokee, Gregory Greene of Whittier, Jaeleith Callahan of Whittier, Michael Van Eepoel of Sylva and Katelynn Hedden of Sylva.
Six students pose wearing their graduation caps and gowns

Sometimes hitting rock bottom is the perfect remedy for a life heading in the wrong direction.

That was the case for Samantha Gunter, who reached her low point a year ago in the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians’ Detention Center.

Incarcerated on drug charges in August of 2018, Gunter realized while in jail that she wanted to set a better trajectory for her life. In walked Alan Hughes, an instructor in Southwestern Community College’s College & Career Readiness program, and Gunter seized her opportunity to chart a new path.

“Being incarcerated was my lowest point, but it helped me grieve my mother (who’d died two years earlier), and it helped me see I needed to make a change in my life,” Gunter recalled recently. “Getting my GED was one step toward that.“

Now free from jail and a year into her recovery from drug addiction, Gunter walked across the stage at SCC’s Burrell Building to receive her High School Equivalency during a graduation ceremony on July 11 in Sylva.

She was among 37 graduates honored that evening.

“When I started out, it wasn’t easy, and there were times I wanted to give up,” Gunter said as her wife Sheryl Simpson and close friends took photos of her clinging proudly to her diploma. “But Mr. Hughes helped me through that. I would go to class every Tuesday and Thursday for five hours straight. It got me out of my cell at first. I doubted myself. I was at the lowest point in my life, but he didn’t give up on me. I stuck it out.”

Gunter, who is 28, plans to continue her education at SCC and eventually earn her teaching degree sho she can become a basketball coach.

For one night, though, she savored her accomplishment.

“It feels amazing,” Gunter said. “It feels like I’m dreaming, to be honest with you. I made it. I can’t believe I did it. I know that if I can do it, anybody in this world can.”

Gunter was the first student to participate in a High School Equivalency graduation ceremony after earning her diploma through SCC’s outreach to the EBCI Detention Center.

Kay Wolf, director of Southwestern’s College & Career Readiness program, praised Gunter and the other graduates for their perseverance in earning their diplomas.

“All the individuals in this room made a personal decision to start turning their lives around, and our entire staff could not be more proud,” Wolf said. “It is not easy to take classes and pass these tests, particularly when you have kids to take care of or job responsibilities, but these graduates found a way. I am also extremely grateful for the hard work our instructors put into helping students accomplish their goals.”

In addition to helping students earn their High School Equivalencies, SCC’s College & Career Readiness program provides students with support they need to choose a career pathway and pursue their college education at Southwestern.

For more information about the College & Career Readiness Program at SCC, contact Donna Wilson at 828.339.4272 or d_wilson[at]southwesterncc[dot]edu.


Graduates wearing caps and gowns
Macon County residents who received their High School Equivalencies from Southwestern Community College on July 11 in Sylva were, from left: Martina Melendez, Rebecca Smith of Franklin, Haley Thurman of Franklin, Robert Eker of Franklin, Panagiota Spentzos of Otto, Thomas Hill of Franklin, Diamond Burch of Franklin, Alexis Jones of Franklin, Ronald Wickham of Franklin and Cameron Wilson of Franklin.
Two graduates wearing caps and gowns
Paige Becker (left) and Garyetta Phillips of Swain County received their High School Equivalencies from Southwestern Community College on July 11 in Sylva.
Graduates wearing caps and gowns
SCC’s College & Career Readiness Coordinator Crystal Snover (right) poses with Cherokee residents who received their High School Equivalencies on July 11 in Sylva. Graduates are, from left: Samantha Gunter, Safiya Daggs, Catherine Lurch and Trevor Sundown.