Months after being critically injured when she was hit by a car, Tashunda Dukes, 19, celebrated both her birthday and graduation from William A. Hough High School on Saturday – the first of her siblings to receive a high school diploma.
“I’m just astonished that she made her grades and very proud,” said her mother, Veronica Dukes.
The mother and daughter were walking from a gas station across the street from their apartment complex on Statesville Road in Huntersville when they were struck by a car on Sept. 20.
“That’s about all I remember. I don’t even remember getting hit,” Tashunda Dukes said. “I just remember I was about to cross the street, looking to make sure there were no cars, and there weren’t any.”
The teen said she woke up in the ambulance, but “blacked out” again before reaching Carolinas Medical Center. Among her injuries: a bruised tailbone, fractured sternum, four broken metatarsals in her left foot and bruised lungs.
Veronica Dukes also suffered serious injuries. She fractured her pelvis, sternum and vertebrae and was in critical condition for two to three weeks.
Tashunda Dukes was away from school for two months as she recovered. She said she worried about missing so much schoolwork and not graduating. But she said she prayed about it, which helped her to stay motivated.
“I kept telling myself, ‘I can do it,’ ” she said.
Mary Towe, the student services department chair at Hough, said the senior kept up with homework and assignments as best as she could before she was able to return to school. Towe made one of the first visits to drop off assignments.
“I was telling her not to overdo it,” said Towe, “but the look of concern (on her face) said ‘Will I be behind?’ The immediate response was for her to focus on healing. …We would tell her, ‘Work on what you’re able to do.’ ”
The high school was able to find a homebound teacher for the determined student, who was able to return to school around Thanksgiving.
“I was absolutely in awe of how much she did,” Towe said. “Tashunda was getting up every morning, getting on the school bus” while her mother was still in the hospital.
“Weeks went by before I realized how self-reliant she was. I’ve seen the commitment to stay after school – she never lost her focus on that goal – of graduating.”
But while Tashunda Dukes transitioned back to school, her mother did not come home from the hospital until March.
Veronica Dukes, who has used a walker since the incident, said she is proud of her daughter for not giving up.
“I can’t express it,” Veronica Dukes said of her youngest child. “I am so very, very happy.”
In the fall, Tashunda Dukes will attend Central Piedmont Community College, and plans to become an ultrasound technician.