GILFORD — As Kimberly Hallett stood on the stage of the Bank of New Hampshire Pavilion at Meadowbrook Sunday at Granite State College's 40th commencement ceremonies, she realized a dream that she and her doctors once thought was unreachable.
It was a hard road for Hallett, 27, of Rochester, who graduated with a bachelor's degree in engineering psychology and was the class's representative to the state university system.
As a teenager, she was diagnosed with Ehlers-Danlos syndrome, a disease group of inherited disorders marked by extremely loose joints, hyperelastic skin that bruises easily, and easily damaged blood vessels.
She was home-schooled, which made dealing with the disease somewhat easier as a teenager, she said.
But when she turned 21, her parents had divorced, and she had been told she was "permanently and totally disabled." She was not able to walk.
She wanted to go to college, but had never been in a classroom with other students. She didn't think any school would take her, she said.
"I wasn't sure I'd ever be able to walk, much less graduate from a college," she said.
Then she started a new therapy for the disease that has helped so much that she is able to walk without any aid, she said. And she enrolled in Granite State College in Rochester, very close to her home.
"Having been home-schooled, I was nervous because I had never been in a real classroom," she told her fellow graduates. "But once I got there, I started learning and enjoying it, and I learned as much from my student peers as I did from my instructors."
She graduated with a 3.97 grade-point average. Her disease is under control, she said, and she now has a career to pursue. The future looks bright.
"I would say my home-schooling was very successful," she said with a smile. "And I found a college that offered me everything a student without a disability would get, and challenged me at the same time. I have nothing but hope now."
The college's graduating class of 2013 has more than 400 students, about 250 of whom received diplomas in Gilford on Sunday.
The college awarded its first master's degrees this year in the fields of leadership and product management.
The college awarded its Honorary Doctorate in Humane Letters to Lucille Jordan, the president of Nashua Community College. The Granite State Award was given to Harold J. Jordan, president and CEO of the YMCA of Greater Manchester. The Distinguished Faculty Award was given to Christine Tate of the college's School of Education.
Jordan told the graduating class to be willing to set goals for themselves and then reach them.
"You are Boston strong, New England strong," she said.