Winona State University student Keaton Miles has never been one to take the easy way out. Coming from an impoverished background, she grew up determined to overcome the obstacles in her life through hard work and determination.
Receiving her degree in ecology from WSU in fall 2013 marks the achievement of an important goal she set for herself, but this achievement didn’t come without some difficult life lessons.
Miles enrolled at Winona State in fall 2009 and continued to work multiple jobs while maintaining a full schedule of classes each semester. The pressure and stress of the expectations she placed on herself started to take their toll, and Miles became increasingly depressed over the course of a year. She rejected the idea of seeking help, for fear of being seen as weak or a failure.
The cycle eventually culminated in a suicide attempt. Miles was in a coma for a day, then spent a week in behavioral medicine after the attempt. During her recovery, Miles received a tremendous amount of love and support from friends, family and the most unexpected of places: Winona State. Faculty members and fellow students sent words of encouragement and even came to visit her.
Realizing the impact she had on those around her, and the important role she played in the world around her, was a touching and humbling experience for her. Miles credits the experience with giving her perspective and the strength to carry on.
Even though she still struggles with depression, Miles is getting help, and trying hard not to be ashamed of it. She now knows that many of her fellow students struggle in silence with mental health issues just as she did, and has vowed to use her story to show there is no reason to be fearful or ashamed.
“There is great strength in having people to lean on when needed,” Miles said.
For Miles, the WSU mission statement, “a community of learners improving our world,” resonates with a deeper undercurrent of compassion and humanity.
“Community and love are the things that will make this a better world, which is why we are all going to school in the first place, right?”