Red Lake Nation News - Babaamaajimowinan (Telling of news in different places)

Chickasaw student takes non-traditional path to health degree

 

September 2, 2020

Clayton Westmoreland

When COVID-19 hit, Chickasaw citizen and non-traditional student Clayton Westmoreland knew that a traditional graduation ceremony wouldn't be in the cards for him.

With universities altering their graduation ceremonies, Mr. Westmoreland's ceremony at LeTourneau University in Longview, Texas was one of the many affected. But he didn't let that stop him from celebrating his bachelor's degree.

"I had originally planned to do all the stuff for this graduation that I should've done graduating 21 years ago," Mr. Westmoreland said. "I wanted to have the big graduation party, go to South Padre Island for spring break, wear my cap and gown to dinner after my graduation. But all of that got cancelled."

The day Mr. Westmoreland, of Lancaster, Texas, was to graduate, May 9, he and his wife were gearing up for their normal grocery trip to Costco. Before heading out, his wife suggested he wear something a little different than his normal attire¬ - his cap and gown along with his Chickasaw graduation stole.

Mr. Westmoreland did just that. He donned his cap, gown and stoles, cued up "Pomp and Circumstance" on his phone, and took to the Costco aisles the same day he was meant to walk across the stage.

"I'm no stranger to public theatrics," he admitted.

As a dancer for the Dallas Mavericks, he is used to being in the spotlight.

"That's kind of my personality...to attract attention," he said. "I got some weird looks from people, but more than anything people were telling me congratulations. There were so many people that missed out on their graduation. But we must find something to do to celebrate it. Everybody deserves a celebration."

A LONG-AWAITED DEGREE

Mr. Westmoreland originally went to college right out of high school in 1995. But after about three years he ended up dropping out and joining the family business - law enforcement.

"I was in law enforcement for twelve years," he said. "I started as a jailer and did that for two years. From there, I moved into a patrol officer position for ten years."

He might have continued on that path if it hadn't been for a serious car accident and an injury that left him partially blind in his right eye. He had no choice but to retire early.

"I wanted to be a doctor when I was a child," Mr. Westmoreland said. "Even in a family full of law enforcement. My whole family has been law enforcement, and even as a little kid I never thought I'd be a cop when I grew up."

It was years after his retirement from law enforcement that the decision to go back to college came to him. That original dream of being a doctor as a child hadn't gone away, though it did evolve into Mr. Westmoreland opting to pursue a different side of health care.

"I cried out in prayer for some guidance and was led to LeTourneau University," he said. "I decided to get back into my original plan to be in health care, but the business management side of it."

He wanted to help people and working in the health care system was another way to accomplish that.

"I'm very much driven to help people and serve my fellow man," he said. "That was another reason I enjoyed being a police officer so much. That is my main internal driver, to help people."

He persevered through the tough college courses thrown his way and earned a bachelor's degree in health care management, an achievement he has looked forward to for years.

"This time, with my higher level of maturity and expecting more from myself, I ended up graduating with a 4.0," he said. "It was quite difficult."

CONTINUING EDUCATION

Now that Mr. Westmoreland has earned his bachelor's degree, he is going back to LeTourneau to pursue his master's degree in health administration.

Ultimately, he would like to continue moving up the chain of command in his current position or move to the clinic side of health care.

"I would love to be at the GT Southwest Medical Center," he said. "There's a certain certification that I'm going for that's going to take me about six years to get."

Even though COVID-19 affected his graduation plans, Mr. Westmoreland will be able to continue pursuing his education through online classes.

"I've got a full-time job, my part-time job is with the Dallas Mavericks, my oldest child is going to college herself and my youngest son has special needs, so I decided to add college to that plate," he laughed. "It's treated me well so far."

 

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