Guardian angel guides Georgia Gwinnett College nursing graduate to success
Autumn Musgrave Burgess, 24, of Canton, said she could easily have wandered down a bad path. She grew up in Forsyth County, Georgia, the child of separated parents and a survivor of an “adverse childhood,” a term referring to various types of abuse and neglect.
Burgess said she was left to raise herself amid chaos, a fate any young adult would find daunting, but to a child it was terrifying. She said she felt like she was living through an endless storm, with clouds so dark and thick she couldn’t see a way out. Right when she needed it most, a light broke through.
Her adoptive grandmother saw what Burgess was going through and stepped in to pull her out of the storm. Burgess said when she came into her life, it was like a rainbow appeared. The older woman took Burgess under her wing and guided her toward a better path. Burgess calls her “Lollie.”
“If not for Lollie, I would not be standing here today,” said Burgess. “If I could be a ‘Lollie’ to just one kid and show them that their current circumstances do not define their future, then it would make everything I went through worthwhile.”
Burgess enrolled at Georgia Gwinnett College (GGC) after she graduated from North Forsyth High School in 2016. She said she decided on GGC after taking a tour and falling in love with the beautiful campus and friendly faculty. She knew she wanted to dedicate her life to helping troubled children, so at first, she sought a teaching degree.
“I realized that I wanted to use my childhood experiences for good and allow my growth through my past horrors to help children deal with theirs,” said Burgess. “It took me a while to discover that teaching was not how I was meant to do that.”
Once again, it was Lollie who showed her the way. Lollie worked as a nurse in pediatric psychology at Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta for many years. One day it clicked: If Burgess wanted to make the kind of impact on others that Lollie had on her, nursing was the key.
“Even though I didn’t have the best hand dealt to me, I had Lollie’s guidance and wisdom to help me through those dark times,” she said. “The impact she has made on my life inspired me to pursue a career in pediatric psychological nursing.”
Burgess was accepted into GGC’s nursing program on April 2, 2020. She was driving when the email came through and pinged her phone.
“I saw that it was from the Admissions office and I immediately threw the phone in the back of my car and started crying. The rest of the drive home was one of those drive-the-speed-limit-with-no-radio-type drives, I was so nervous and emotional.”
When she got home, she worked up the courage to retrieve her phone from the back seat.
“I saw that it said the word ‘congratulations’ and I thought, ‘Well, it would be kind of rude if they put the word ‘congratulations’ on a denial letter.’ So, I decided it was safe to open the email and sure enough, I got accepted! I was so emotional and so grateful because I had worked so hard, and I was scared I wasn’t going to get in. It was one of the best moments of my life.”
Burgess said her favorite thing about GGC is the faculty.
“These professors are amazing people inside and out, and I love so many of them,” she said. “I can honestly say, in my six years here at GGC, I have yet to have a single professor who does not care just as much, if not more, about my future than I do. They are the bread and butter of this place, and they have changed my life forever.”
Burgess had some health issues in her last semester that put her in the hospital, and she worried that she might not graduate. She says her nursing professors went out of their way to make sure she had everything she needed to finish strong.
“When I was in the hospital, not one professor – even professors from previous semesters – did not offer to come stay with me and make sure I had everything I needed.”
Burgess is excited about starting her career and working with children.
“I want to set an example and show them that they can be who they want to be no matter what has happened to them in their past. Their future is their own, and nobody gets to take that from them. I want to make that much of an impact on children's lives.”
After graduation, Burgess will move to California where her husband, a U.S. Marine, is stationed at Camp Pendleton. She said she hopes to find employment at Rady Children’s Hospital in San Diego.
Burgess will join more than 650 students who will graduate at GGC's commencement at 10 a.m., Wednesday, May 11 at Gas South Arena, 6400 Sugarloaf Parkway, Duluth.