Whittier College News Release

For Immediate Release - May 14, 1999
Media Contact
Reference: 98/99: 119

Whittier Grad Overcomes Illness, Going from Coma to College

Melissa Pereau is likely to be the designated driver when she and her friends celebrate graduation this month. She'll turn 20 just a few days before the commencement ceremony-old enough to graduate with honors, but too young to toast the occasion.

A biology major with a minor in chemistry who transferred from Rio Hondo College two years ago, Pereau has been doing the unexpected for several years. When she was in the third grade, an allergic reaction put her in a coma. Doctors thought she would either die or suffer catastrophic brain damage. After a week, she simply woke up.

But the coma did change her life. Pereau's parents pulled up stakes, loaded up the RV and took Pereau and her brother on a cross country-odyssey that lasted six years. During those six years, she was home schooled and read voraciously. "I read everything I could get my hands on," she said. "Anything from dictionaries to John Deere tractor manuals to physics books, but that wasn't too good for my social development." She passed the high school equivalency test at 15 and began taking nursing classes at Rio Hondo College at the age of 16 when her parents finally brought the family back to Whittier.

She honed her social skills by tutoring fellow nursing students, most of whom were at least a decade older than she. "It helped me mature real quick," she said, "and I needed those two years to figure out what I wanted to do."

What she did was transfer to Whittier, where she eventually moved into a residence hall to experience college life first hand and make more friends. While keeping her studies up to graduate with almost a 4.0 GPA, she spent lots of time this year at punk rock shows, which she says are "therapeutic."

Pereau's also been a volunteer in the emergency room at Whittier Hospital Medical Center, and will continue there after graduation. She's considering a couple of laboratory job options, but mainly looks forward to relaxing for awhile and catching up on her favorite pastime-reading whatever she feels like.

Located 18 miles east of Los Angeles, Whittier College is an independent, four-year college offering traditional liberal arts majors and strong pre-professional programs taught in the context of the liberal arts. Whittier Law School, which is accredited by the American Bar Association and is a member of the Association of American Law Schools, is located on a separate campus in Costa Mesa.

Whittier College Office of Communications
13406 Philadelphia P.O. Box 634 Whittier, CA 90608-0634
Tel: (562) 907-4213 Fax: (562) 907-4927