GREENSBORO, N.C. (WGHP) —  Gabrielle Vanderkuyl got to turn the tassel on her cap as she graduated UNC Greensboro’s school of nursing.

It took her seven years to graduate.

In 2016, four months before Vanderkuyl was supposed to get her Bachelor of Science in nursing, she ended up paralyzed from the chest down. It’s a moment in her life she doesn’t want to talk about or focus on. Instead, she talked about her hard work and perseverance, which made her graduation dreams come true.

“My whole life changed,” she said. “But in such a different way, and it turned upside down…today it turned right side up.”

A huge smile lit up Vanderkuyl’s face as she entered the Fleming Gym at UNCG on Thursday afternoon for her graduation ceremony.

“I feel like today’s the easy part,” she said. “Celebrating is always the fun, easy part…getting to here…was the struggle.”

Vanderkuyl’s husband, children and family members watched her earn her degree alongside the class of 2023.

“I was just overwhelmed with just joy and a relief,” she said.

The biggest surprise of the day was when Vanderkuyl received the Dean’s Recognition Award.

“It was just really an honor to be called out for the excellence that I’ve shown as a student,” she said.

With a diploma in hand, Vanderkuyl’s next goal is growing her family and thinking about how she will use her nursing degree.

“It’s just moving forward and just knowing that you’re capable of whatever dream that you have and don’t give up,” she said. “Put everything you can do in a bag. Put it on your back. And go forward.”

She’s come a long way. Now, she has to study for the test to get her nursing license.