Like many Morrisville State students, Samantha Wackford has been finishing up her final classes and projects at the college's Norwich campus. Samantha will receive her associates degree this weekend but her journey to the stage is one that few people could imagine. Samantha is blind and has had extensive facial reconstruction surgery.
Ten years ago this week, she was a 17 year old beauty pageant contestant in her native country of Guyana in South America when a jealous ex-boyfriend had her attacked.
"This happened as a result of that person paying someone to throw acid in my face," said Samantha.
Samantha and her mother came to the United States with help from a international non-profit group. She had to learn to live without sight and undergo painful surgeries in Boston. Samantha and her mother eventually returned to Guyana but Samantha decided she needed to learn to live on her own. She made the decision to return to the United States on her own and join a vision loss support program in Boston.
"That was the big moment. That was the big - well you have to do this. You have no choice other than to fight for yourself," said Samantha.
When she returned to Boston, she found her strength, her confidence and a partner. Samantha met Troy Wackford in her program and they decided to spend the rest of their lives together.
"That was a big moment in my life when I realized I'll have the opportunity to love again, because that's something I thought would never happen," said Samantha.
Troy is from the town of Oxford in Chenango County. When the couple moved back to New York so they could be close to his family, Samantha decided she would pursue her lifelong goal of attending college. With help from technology that turns text into voice, Samantha completed all of her classes at Morrisville State's Norwich campus. She became known at the school for her work ethic and drive - as well as not letting her disability hold her back.
"Especially when she does group projects. The other students rise to her level sometimes where as they might not have if she had not been in the group. So it's really a wonderful thing to see," said one of her professors, Cindy Riedi.
Samantha's achievements won't stop at Morrisville State. She's going to SUNY Binghamton and she hopes to eventually have a career helping battered women.
"It's a way for me giving back because I think the universe has been tremendously wonderful to me in terms of allowing me to survive," said Samantha.
"To come from where she came from, and to go as far as she's going to go," said her husband Troy. "I'm there to witness it and to be a part of it."
From tragedy to triumph, Samantha says faith, and the support of family and friends made everything she has accomplished over the past ten years possible.
"I am accomplishing these dreams that I never thought I'd be able to accomplish - and that means a great deal to me."