Cheyenne Holt has wisdom beyond her 22 years.
Hard-earned wisdom she wants to share when she delivers the commencement address for the Tarleton State University College of Agriculture and Environmental Sciences at 4 p.m. Saturday.
She will talk about growing through adversity and how all things work together for good.
How, you ask, does a 22-year-old speak with any authority on such a thing?
Consider that she was diagnosed with metastatic thyroid cancer when she was 17. The diagnosis dramatically altered her life.
She says she’s thankful for the cancer.
As a senior softball player at Dublin High School, she suffered a neck injury in a tournament game in Brock against Stephenville. In pain and unable to move, she was taken to the hospital for tests. A scan revealed nodules on her thyroid. They would have gone undetected had she not been hurt in the game.
Doctors performed surgery to remove the tumor and her thyroid and placed her on a program that included radioactive iodine to fight the disease.
“After my surgery they told me it was metastatic and if we hadn’t found it when we did, it was likely I wouldn’t have lived to see my 21st birthday,” she said. “It was a God thing.”
As it is, she graduates Saturday with a degree in wildlife sustainability and ecosystem sciences, but Tarleton was never in the original plans.
“Tarleton was not my first choice,” she said candidly. “I grew up in Dublin and wanted to go to school somewhere else, to see new things.”
Her doctors told her she needed to either pick a school nearby so she would have the support of her family while she battled the cancer, or take a break from college.
“There was no way I was taking a year off,” she said. “I decided to go ahead and go to Tarleton. It really did end up being the best decision I could have made. I absolutely love it here. Everything works out exactly as it’s supposed to be.”
Which is one of the points she’ll make from the stage Saturday.
“All of us face different adversities throughout life, but it’s not something to be afraid of or shy away from or be angry about. Adversity is what really shapes us as the people we are and the people we’re going to be.
“The greatest adversity of my life so far has been cancer. Because of that adversity, I was able to come to Tarleton. Because of that adversity I was able to make some of the best memories I’ve had. I was able to learn so much about the field I am passionate about, where I want to go and be the kind of person I want to be.
“No matter what you’re facing, no matter what life throws at you, always embrace it. Learn from it. Let it shape you.”
Cheyenne’s love of nature drove her desire to work in conservation. She calls Steve Irwin and Jane Goodall her heroes.
It was a summer internship at the Houston Zoo that solidified her determination to educate.
“I still don’t have an exact idea of where I want to be or what I want to do, but I know I want to spend the rest of my life informing others,” she said. ”Whether it’s children or adults, I want to teach them about the outdoors, conservation, why I love it so much and what we can all do to contribute to preserving it for generations to come.”
Cheyenne, who has already begun work on her master’s, said her education at Tarleton has provided her with tools to advance her career goals.
“I couldn’t be more prepared. I’ve been involved with the Tarleton student chapter of the Wildlife Society, and they have given me so many opportunities to go into the field and get hands-on experience.”
Though she has been through some tough times, she is doing well now and is excited about graduating and the next phases of her life.
“I definitely beat the odds,” she said. “I was very fortunate it all played out the way it did.”