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Adrienne-Paul-and-President-Hagerty at graduation ceremony By Richard Burnett

From a life often marked by angst and pain, first-time author Adrienne Hughes Paul has set her sights on creating a world of encouragement and triumph.

Paul-Adrienne-author-photo In her debut book, “Unstoppable,” the aspiring writer, artist, and Beacon College graduate (Class of 2016) weaves a tale of childhood trauma, friendship, mystery, supernatural, and overcoming the adversity of learning and physical disabilities. (Unstoppable is available here on Amazon.)

A work of young adult science fantasy — a fast-growing area of the book publishing industry — the book tells the story of a group of teens who have superpowers, solve mysteries, and fight evil. Their foes range from school bullies to rogue scientists who abduct kids for secret experiments. (Think of teen detective Nancy Drew combined with the X-Men of Marvel.)

In “Unstoppable’s” world, however, all the superheroes are kids with learning differences. A victim of traumatic brain injury, Paul draws from her own experience and that of other TBI victims — such as close friend Janine Martin (also Beacon Class of 2016).

“Growing up was such a struggle for me,” said Paul, who was nearly killed when she was four years old by a hit-and-run driver. “To cope with it, I would often think of myself as a superhero from my brothers’ comic books; that I was strong and powerful and able to overcome all the trouble that came my way.

“That’s why I wanted this book to be directed to a younger audience,” she said. “I want it to be something they would be inspired by and would show them there’s hope. And although we are often considered the ‘underdogs,’ we are still the superheroes of our own stories.”

Nobody Saw the Car Coming

On a carefree day three decades ago, young Adrienne Hughes crossed the street with her siblings after a church meeting had just ended. As the youngest, little Adrienne lagged behind the others, as everyone else chatted away. Nobody saw the car coming.

Witnesses said the vehicle struck her at full speed, hurling her body about 15 feet in the air and onto the pavement. Panic followed, as her family and other churchgoers raced to help her. She was rushed to the hospital in critical condition and put in a medically induced coma.

“I almost died,” Paul said. “And I was in the hospital for a long, long time. Honestly, I remember nothing about that. But what I do remember is the bullying and manipulation that followed.”

More than a year after the accident, doctors cleared her to return to school, though still suffering tremors, halting speech, impaired walking, mental confusion, and other cognitive and physical effects of TBI. Beyond the physical effects, however, the worst part of her TBI experience was the extreme cruelty that some kids showed her.

“The worst bullying I’ve encountered in my life was in elementary school,” she said. “I got bullied constantly. Other kids didn’t know what to make of me. They were brutally mean. Later, as a teen, I’d make some friends, then they’d turn on me and do mean-hearted things, calling me names and attacking me. It was just a very difficult time.”

One of the Happiest Times

Over the years, however, Paul found the drive and determination to adapt, adjust, and succeed. She discovered Beacon and its specialty in neurodivergent students, enrolled in 2013, and graduated in 2016 with an associate’s degree in interdisciplinary studies. She returned to her home and attended Florida State College in Jacksonville where she earned a bachelor’s degree in media communications in 2019.

But it was at Beacon where things started to come together for her, educationally, emotionally, socially and in every way, she said.

“I love Beacon for everything and everyone who helped me believe in myself,” said Paul, who now lives in the Jacksonville area with her husband Brandon, an electrical engineer. “I came there as a very shy person, but I was so happy there, I became a bubbly, confident, loud person. I am grateful to all the teachers and all the students who accepted my loud, enthusiastic, charismatic personality. It was one of the happiest times in my life.”

Paul was a powerful presence around campus, with a strong tight-knit group of friends that got along with everyone they met, said Russ Bellamy, chair of Beacon’s studio arts department.

“She was always a very enthusiastic and creative student. Both her writing and her visual artwork took a powerful perspective that engaged her audience in a relatable way,” he said. “I am sure that has become a fabulous asset through her endeavors as an author.”

Paul’s good-natured ways won friends at every turn, said long-time Beacon friend Samantha Resnick, an administrative assistant for the college’s Center for Career Preparation.

“She worked at jobs all over the campus when she was here, so everyone knew her,” Resnick said. “She was always energetic, always friendly, and said hello to everyone. She made a difference here.”

A Transformation to Confidence

Among her teachers and mentors, perhaps nobody knew her as well as Brenda Jenkins Newkirk, an instructor in computer information systems, who witnessed Paul’s transformation from a timid freshman to a confident young woman in class and on campus.

“During that time, I built such a strong connection with her,” Newkirk recalled. “She’s been through so much in her life. I always tried to be there for her, supporting, encouraging, and praying with her. I became sort of her ‘Beacon mother’ in those years. And I’m so proud of her now for all that she’s accomplished, especially her new book.”

For Paul, that kind of heartfelt support has fueled her resolve to prove herself and make her dreams come true, against all odds. She’s currently developing marketing strategies and working on the sequel to Unstoppable, which she envisions as the first of a series.

“After my injury, not a lot of people expected much would ever come from me,” she said. “But I took that as a motivation to never quit or give up. I’m not going let my disability define me or stop me from being who I want to be in life.

“Sure, it’s been a struggle, even to this day,” she added. “But there is nothing in this life that will ever reverse what happened to me. So, I believe you have to look for the people who are positive and give you light in the midst of darkness, and keep moving forward to help others. Try to figure out how to put on your own oxygen mask so you can help somebody else put on theirs.”