In October 2018, SJC Long Island student Lenora Watson lost her mom to cancer. By Christmas that year, she had lost her home.
The devastation that semester nearly broke the U.S. Army veteran. Watson, 30, said she suffered emotional breakdowns during class and was showing up late to school. Her grades started to slip.
Noticing these changes, one of Watson’s criminal justice professors, Amy Poland, Ph.D., set up a meeting with Watson to check on her well-being.
“I still get teary-eyed thinking about it,” Watson said. “Because of her and the Office of Military and Veteran Services, I began to make it. I received grants to help me in my time of need, which I put toward getting a car and an apartment. And though it was hard for the remainder of the semester, I managed to make the Dean’s List.”
Watson explained the trauma she experienced over the death of her mother, who adopted Watson and her brother and two sisters, along with two of their cousins, when Watson was 5.
“When my mom passed away, it felt like my life basically ended,” said Watson, a senior criminal justice major. “My mom was my best friend. I lived to make her happy. When I was in the military, I would call her every day, no matter the difference in time zone.
“She was the first and last person I saw and spoke to the entire four years I was active duty. My mom was my everything,” she added.
Dr. Poland, who is also the associate dean for online learning, and Erin D’Eletto, director of the Military and Veteran Services office, took Watson under their wings.
“Without the help of my professor Amy Poland and my veteran ‘mom’ Erin D’Eletto, along with the help I’ve received from the Center for Wellness and various offices on campus, I would not be where I am today,” Watson said.
Bright Future Ahead
Watson hopes to become a cop after she graduates in May.
“My dream job as a child was to be a cop,” said the 2008 Bellport High School graduate. “When I was a little girl, I used to watch the TV show ‘New York Undercover.’ It was one my favorite shows. I wanted to be just like them. My passion is to help people — kids like myself, who were in foster care. I love the feeling it gives me to help another, whether it’s being an ear to listen, a shoulder to cry on or a needed laugh after a tough day.”
Watson recently passed the Suffolk County Police Department exam. Now, she sits and waits for her number to be called before she can take the psychology and physical exams and interview. The inspiration that keeps her going? Her adoptive mom.
“My mother was and still is my biggest inspiration in life,” said Watson, who went to live with Annette when she was 5. “She isn’t my biological parent, but she loved me just the same. She always told me not to stress the small things; I’m still learning this with every passing day.”
And though she’s still struggling with her loss, Watson is striving to see her dreams become a reality.
“I would like to say that I am not special, and I know that someone else is or has been through worse things than I have,” the Huntington resident said. “I am humbled and honored to get this story out. I know that every household is different and that the inevitable can be conquered. I am living proof that being knocked down, you can find your way back to your feet. With will, good company and time, anything can be accomplished.”