Tamarra Duckett graduated from Harris County High School in 2013. She was diagnosed with bacterial meningitis the day before she turned 2. Her infection resulted in the amputation of both feet and decomposition of 5½ fingertips.
Duckett, 24, is among the 321 Columbus Technical College students who qualified for graduation during the summer and fall 2018 semesters. Before receiving her diploma Thursday night at the ceremony in the Columbus Civic Center, she reflected on what she has overcome.
Reaching graduation feels like a stepping stone, she said — not only for herself.
“Hopefully,” she said, “it will be inspiration for someone that anything you want to do, you can do it.”
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Duckett, who lives in Waverly Hall, has used prosthetic feet to walk since she was 2.
“I never wanted to be in a wheelchair,” she said. “I’ve always wanted to get up and do it myself.”
She periodically battles arthritic pain from the scar tissue, but her perseverance pulls her through. In fact, Duckett said, she can’t think of anything her disability prevents her from doing. The only accommodation she makes is to give herself extra time to walk from one place to another.
“Growing up, I didn’t consider it a challenge because my parents never treated me any different from anyone else,” she said. “… At school, I went to normal classes. I did everything everybody else did.”
Some classmates teased her, Duckett said, but her biggest challenge as a child was making the good grades her parents expected and planning a path toward a career. No wonder one of the bracelets she wears reminds her to, “Set the expectation.”
“My sisters all played basketball, and my brother went to the military,” she said, “and I had to find what it was I was going to do.”
Duckett started her path toward a degree in psychology, but it wasn’t “hands-on” enough. She realized she could combine her desire to help others with her joy of “girlie” activities.
“I wanted to help people because I’ve always had people helping me,” she said.
Instead of being in the beauty business, Duckett said, she thinks of her mission as boosting the confidence of her customers by showing them how to feel comfortable in their skin.
“People look at me and think that because they can physically see something different that they don’t think I can be the same,” she said. “. . . I’ve had clients ask questions, but I’ve never had anything negative come from that.”
Columbus Tech cosmetology department director Sherylene Edmonson, in her ninth year at the college and 30th year in the industry, ranks Duckett among the best students she has seen.
“She stands out,” Edmonson said. “With all of her adversity and things going on with her, she always keeps a smile on her face.”
Edmonson recalled the first time Duckett gave someone a manicure in the Columbus Tech salon. The client clearly was hesitant after glimpsing the condition of Duckett’s fingers.
“She did such an amazing job, even though the client was maybe not sure,” Edmonson said. “But the client gained confidence in her, just by her smile and how she performed the service. . . . Her spirit just spilled over on the client.”
After the manicure, Edmonson heard the client say this about Duckett: “I like her.”
Since then, Edmonson said, clients often request Duckett when they come to the Columbus Tech salon, which is open to the public.
With her certification as a nail technician, Duckett is continuing her education in Columbus Tech’s esthetics program. She plans to also earn a credential in business management and become a master cosmetologist. Her ultimate goal is to own a day spa.
Duckett encourages others dealing with hardships to “never give up, and be strong, and take the negative and make it a positive.”
OPEN TO THE PUBLIC
The Cosmetology and Esthetics Department at Columbus Technical College is open to the public for all types of hair, skin and nail services. In exchange for prices less than commercial salons, customers help students learn and hone their skills.
Prices for hair cuts are as low as $3. Shampoo and set starts at $10. Facials start at $10. Permanent waves start at $15. Manicures start at $5. Pedicures start at $15.
The hours are 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., depending on the service. For hair and nail services, call 706-649-1812. For skin services, call 706-225-0565.
Mark Rice, 706-576-6272, @MarkRiceLE.