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June 9, 2015
Camila Claycomb is graduating from EOU with magna cum laude honors, earning a double major in English and history with a minor in Spanish.
LA GRANDE, Ore. (EOU) – Camila Claycomb opened her eyes and said the first thought that popped into her head: “I need to get ready for class!”
Fall term was starting at Eastern Oregon University and Claycomb was excited to begin her senior year, but something wasn’t right. Why were doctors in her room?
Claycomb had just woken from a coma and had no idea she’d been fighting for her life for weeks at Saint Alphonsus Regional Medical Center.
A full month had passed since she was involved in a fatal collision while on a return trip to La Grande from Boise for a classic car show on September 6.
“It was the perfect sunny afternoon,” Claycomb recalled of the drive home with her then boyfriend and his two children tucked into a 1965 Ford Galaxie.
Everything changed in an instant that day on the two-lane highway between Notus and Parma when a drunk-driver weaved across the centerline into oncoming traffic, hitting them head-on.
Claycomb suffered head trauma, a severed artery and all of the bones in both legs – from her hips to her ankles – were broken.
The literal strides she has taken to recovery in the nine months since the crash are nothing short of extraordinary. Doctors told her she wouldn’t regain her mobility for a year, a prognosis Claycomb refused to accept.
Saturday, June 13, when she walks across the field for commencement at Community Stadium and takes the podium as EOU’s President’s Scholar, Claycomb will express gratitude to those who helped her rally strength when she needed it the most.
“I’m really excited to say ‘thank you’ to all the faculty, staff and community members who supported me,” Claycomb said. “Everyone has been so kind and accommodating.”
Claycomb transferred to EOU after attending Umpqua and Treasure Valley community colleges and La Universidad Latina in Costa Rica. She has lived in four countries and 11 states, but a special place is reserved in her heart for La Grande and EOU.
Several of her faculty visited her in the hospital in Boise, including Theresa Gillis, an assistant professor in Pierce Library where Claycomb worked as a student assistant.
“Cami’s mother and sister were taking turns reading aloud to her when I was there,” Gillis said.
“She has such a gentle presence and is obviously very determined.”
Claycomb is just as intent on her studies as her physical recuperation, Gillis said, noting her ongoing research and pursuit of complex scholarly material.
“We all think she’s wonderful and everyone was really pulling for her,” Gillis added.
All the visits, cards, e-mails and encouragement made the difference when Claycomb felt like giving up. “I’d read the notes and think, ‘so many people have faith in me, I can’t let them down,’” she said.
After taking fall term off, Claycomb returned to her studies and her job at the library without skipping a beat. She is graduating on time with magna cum laude honors, earning a double major in English and history with a minor in Spanish.
Joy McAndie, library technician and Claycomb’s supervisor, is amazed by her resolve.
“When Cami sent me an e-mail asking if she could have her job back when she returned to school, we were thrilled, but also unsure of how she could possibly do it, considering the seriousness of her injuries,” McAndie said.
“Then, on the first day of class, we were reminded of how goal oriented she is when she arrived at the library, dressed in her usual fancy l940’s attire – hair and nails perfect and a bright, rosy smile on her face – ready for her job at the Circulation Desk. She is an outstanding young woman who is ready to meet the world.”
Photo by Jeff Alexander / Claycomb and her “pride and joy,” a 1950 Plymouth Special Delux.
As a self-described Type A personality, Claycomb said she likes to plan everything in advance, but her experiences this past year have taught her to be more adaptable.
“The accident made me more flexible and helped me realize that sometimes strange things happen and we have to adjust,” Claycomb said.
She’s also grateful for simple things, like being able to take her rescue dog – a 90-lb. pit bull terrier – for walks and is looking forward to getting back into roller derby eventually, a sport she enjoyed before the crash.
In the long-term, Claycomb hopes to join AmeriCorps, gain residency in a country in Central or South America and complete a graduate degree in library science while living abroad. She is taking the next year to gain experience working in a public library in Idaho while she attends the Calvary Chapel School of Ministry. Ultimately she sees herself working in an American university library not unlike EOU’s.
A lover of all things vintage, especially her 1950 Plymouth Special Deluxe, Claycomb is also learning to repair classic cars at the Texaco station downtown. “It’s my dream job!” she said.
She has also been a tutor in EOU’s Learning Center, served as the assistant editor of Oregon East, the university’s art and literary magazine, worked as a barista at the local Dutch Bros. Coffee, and is involved with the La Grande Main Street program.
After the accident, Dutch Bros. matched donations for her medical expenses, dollar for dollar.
“We make more of a difference in other people’s lives than we know,” Claycomb said. “I want to be a member of a community like this one – one that encourages and builds each other up. You really can influence the future.”
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