SALISBURY, Md. (AP) — This time last year, Kristen Loetz was on a semester off from school recovering from a shooting. She’s now set to not only graduate from Salisbury University on Saturday, but also serve as the fall commencement speaker.
The theme of her speech? Overcoming obstacles.
“I feel like the experience that I’ve had can kind of show people that no matter what you are faced with, there’s a way to overcome it, and there’s something you can do about it to keep pushing forward and continue along,” Loetz said Thursday to The Daily Times of Salisbury.
Loetz, 22, of Stevensville, Maryland, was critically wounded in a shooting shortly before 6:30 p.m. Sept. 3, 2013, when her ex-boyfriend, Ryan Shallue, then 21, came from Stevensville to her home on Onley Road in Salisbury. Shallue fatally shot Charles “CJ” Abbott, 19, of Hebron, and also shot Loetz before shooting and killing himself.
On Thursday, Loetz wore — as she does every day — a green bracelet with yellow writing, reading “CJ – LIVED A WARRIOR, DIED A HERO 9/3/13.”
She described in an October 2013 interview with The Daily Times how she laid and played dead that evening. She spent two weeks in the Shock Trauma center at the University of Maryland Medical Center in Baltimore, and then two weeks in rehab, she said at the time. She was then undergoing physical and speech therapy, and had some surgeries ahead of her.
She said Thursday she has one surgery left and a couple small things to fix, and her emotional recovery continues. But this semester was a lot better than last semester, her first back since the shooting.
“Being home was kind of like being separate from everything,” Loetz said.
So, coming back was tough. She credits the support of friends, faculty and staff for helping her readjust. On campus, she’s part of the Phi Mu sorority, the Student Nurses’ Association and the Thomas E. Bellavance Honors Program. She said she’ll miss the close-knit community at SU.
She’s a nursing major — and is expected to graduate with her Bachelor of Science degree in nursing on Saturday — but when she got back to SU after the shooting, she couldn’t go into a hospital because of the memories it sparked. This semester, she was able to go to all her clinicals in the hospital setting.
Students who are graduating with honors are allowed to submit a speech for consideration by a committee, Loetz said. Finalists are chosen to read their speeches, and she was selected.
Loetz’s speech at the fall commencement will cover her whole college career, she said. The ceremony begins at 10:30 a.m. Saturday at the Wicomico Youth & Civic Center, and tickets are required.
She said she considered giving up the nursing major because of how tough it was.
“Everybody has some sort of experience, goes through something that it makes you just want to give up,” Loetz said.
But being in the hospital helped cement her decision to become a nurse.
“The nurses is what I remember the most and really got me through that, and I want to be able to do that for other people in the hospital,” Loetz said.
Loetz hopes to work as a pediatric nurse in Baltimore following her graduation.
“Kids don’t want to be in the hospital; it’s the last place they want to be,” she said. “So I just really look forward to being able to cheer the.
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