May 13 2019
Normandie Cormier, flanked by her mother Chantelle Gary and brother Payton Gary, proudly displays a sign celebrating her decision to attend XULA. She choose Xavier from among 139 college acceptances.
The Acadiana Advocate
Story & Photo by Katie Gagliano
Early College Academy senior Normandie Cormier was accepted into 139 colleges, at last count, and has received almost $9 million in scholarship offers this year, including several national awards and at least 17 full ride offers.
For the Acadiana teen the accomplishment is a moment of joy and relief, the result of a childhood of dedication, struggling against bullying and managing immune system complications that required hospital stays and patience.
It’s also a stepping stone to the future Cormier has worked hard to build for herself and an example of the success that can come with hard work and persistence, she said.
While her number of acceptances and scholarship offers is impressive, she wants people to feel empowered by her experience more than anything, she said.
“I feel like many students in this area don’t know where to look for opportunities and don’t know where to go,” Cormier said. “I want to make sure they know that staying the course, following your dreams and working hard will get you far.”
In the fall, Cormier will enroll at Xavier University of Louisiana in New Orleans to complete her bachelor’s degree on a pre-med track, with the end goal of becoming a surgeon. She said she’s wanted to be a surgeon for years, a statement in line with the teen’s laser focus and sense of self-possession.
She said she feels a calling to the profession, a desire to serve and a sense of familiarity after her years of experience as a frequent hospital patient.
At 2 years old, Cormier developed an immune system disorder that set off a chain reaction of health complications, including ever-changing allergies, a skin condition that makes Cormier weak and fatigued, severe asthma and other health issues.
Cormier’s mother, Chantelle Gary, said she struggled to understand why this was happening to her once healthy toddler. The single mother said her child’s frequently changing diagnoses numbed her, but she knew she had to keep going.
“At the beginning I wasn’t sure of myself. I was unsure of how to take care of a child with a chronic illness,” Gary said. “I prayed, but I didn’t understand what was going on. Why my child?”
Even with her health complications, Cormier wasn’t deterred from living her life and the family focused on fostering a positive environment in their home, her mother said.
The 18-year-old said she remembers being a happy child, always excited to learn and engage in school. She, her mother and now 12-year-old brother, Payton, were always laughing, and Cormier and her mother would sing songs Gary originally sang to her daughter in the womb.
They also started every day with prayer, offering thanks and asking the Lord to allow them to be a blessing to others, the duo said.
Her positive and resilient attitude was challenged in middle school, when Cormier decided to leave her Catholic elementary school to enroll in a public middle school for sixth grade, she said.
She was the quiet new student, always raising her hand in class and battling illnesses that made her stand out to her classmates, Cormier said. She was targeted by bullies who verbally harassed her, rallied classmates to mock and laugh at her, and even pulled her hair and made other physically aggressive attacks, she said.
“I felt alone and like I couldn’t be myself,” Cormier said.
Gary made the decision to homeschool Cormier and her brother, who was diagnosed with epilepsy at 7 years old. Several years before, she left her job to pursue self-employment, operating different businesses and using her social work background to privately consult and counsel.
She said she knew homeschooling was the best option for her children. It was an unusual educational path at the time and only a skeleton support system existed in the area, but Gary set out to teach her children everything from entrepreneurship to literacy in global issues.
She stressed the importance of self-sufficiency, priority setting and ownership, she said.
“I wanted to be a parent that if I were no longer here my kids could still flourish,” Gary said.
Armed with her mother’s lessons, Cormier decided to go back to school for high school. She enrolled in Lafayette’s Early College Academy, graduating Thursday with a high school diploma and an associate degree from South Louisiana Community College.
She knew the decision was a practical approach with the planned years of medical school ahead of her, she said.
Throughout high school, the teenager chose to use her experiences to benefit others, starting four small businesses and initiatives focused on tutoring, youth service work, female empowerment and youth entrepreneurship. The common focus is to help people feel empowered in different areas, especially young women, she said.
Each day she encourages her mentees to look beyond her personal successes to achieve even more for themselves, she said.
“Shine your light. It’s OK to be smart, it’s OK to be confident, it’s OK to be who you are,” Cormier said. “I feel like so many girls feel powerless or unable to express who they are in the space that they’re in.”
Cormier said she plans to continue spreading that message as she takes her next steps in life.
When she set out on her college application process, she never intended to receive the response she did. She decided to send out as many applications as possible, mainly through the Common Application and the Common Black College Application, to maximize her opportunity to receive financial aid and a potential full ride, Cormier said.
The goal was to avoid student loan debt or placing extra financial burdens on her single mother, she said. The flood of positive responses and support was mind-blowing, she said, and even broke a Guinness World Record for scholarship offers made to one individual.
It shows that anything is possible, Cormier said.
“This was an amazing experience. I’m glad I went through this, that I applied myself and went for what I wanted in life. I feel happy,” she said.
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