Were it not for the COVID-19 pandemic, Shanece Dedeaux ‘20 would have celebrated her graduation in the company of family and friends at Seattle University School of Law’s spring commencement ceremony last month. Donning a cap and gown and walking across the stage to accept her hard-earned diploma would have been a particularly rewarding and poignant moment for Dedeaux, who has persevered through a series of challenges to reach this point, which include becoming a mother at age 15, and later working a full-time job and raising five children while attending law school.
Instead, in just a few weeks, the pandemic has turned her life upside down. It has gravely sickened Dedeaux and her husband, caused her family to struggle financially, and created uncertainty as she looks to launch her legal career. “This past semester especially has tried me to my fullest extent. I haven’t even been able to wrap my head around everything. If I think of everything at once, it’s overwhelming,” she said.
The trouble began in early April when her husband, Ke’Andre Magee, contracted the virus, forcing him to quarantine in a separate room in their Auburn home where they raise their children, who range in age from eight to 17 years old. Dedeaux assumed the role of caregiver. “The door always stayed closed. Whenever I had to enter the room, I wore a visor, gloves, and suit to make sure I didn’t get sick myself. The kids were not allowed to go near the room, which was difficult for them,” she said.
Worse still, Magee had to be admitted to the hospital after he developed pneumonia, where he stayed for several days, which frightened the family.
Despite taking precautions, Dedeaux also contracted the virus, which forced her kids to take refuge with relatives to protect their health. Over a two-week period, “It was the sickest I had ever felt. It was difficult because I was still taking care of my husband while being sick. The shortness of breath and coughing was the worst! I started to feel congested in my nose, but not a normal congestion. It felt like I was under water. It got to a point when I could not take a deep breath and when I tried I would cough violently.”
As the sickness progressed, her fever would spike, causing her to wake up soaked. Like her husband, she also went to a hospital seeking treatment.
“I decided to go to the hospital because I started waking up from sleep gasping for air. I was constantly tired because my sleep was interrupted. I was scared I would stop breathing in my sleep.”
Because there was no sign of fluid in her lungs, she was discharged after only one day. “Luckily, my husband and I are pretty healthy people. We don’t have any underlying diseases and we don't smoke. However, it still did a number on us,” she said. “People don’t understand just how bad this thing is. I’m screaming from the rooftops to everyone: This is serious and it is here to take people out.”
In addition to impacting the health of Dedeaux and her husband, the virus has severely strained the family’s finances. Magee, the primary breadwinner, was laid off from his second job – which he picked up so Dedeaux could step back from her own job to focus on her last year of law school – and where she suspects he contracted the virus. And because he had the virus, he couldn’t work his day job.
Except when she has been sick, Dedeaux has been responsible for homeschooling her children. “We have an actual school day planned. I get them up as if they are going to school and make sure they go through their lessons. My own studying takes a back burner,” she said.
This additional stress and responsibility is layered on top of her role as a law student, which is challenging even in the best circumstances. Although classes ended in early May, Dedeaux still must find time to study for the bar exam so she can eventually start a job at a corporate law firm that she lined up before the pandemic.
“Financially, I really need to start this job, but with the lockdown, I don’t know when I’ll be able to. Getting this job is contingent on passing the bar exam, and there is uncertainty around that. I can’t imagine having to start this job virtually. It’s all really up in the air,” she said.
Dedeaux has long nurtured an ambition to become a lawyer, which only grew stronger in her most recent position at the King County Housing Authority, where she worked with tenants. “I found that I wanted to do more in my role, but once it got to the law, that’s as far as I could go. Every tenant had an issue with the law,” she said. “I tried to put it off, talk myself out of law school, that I could be an advocate some other way. Finally, I gave in.”
Thankfully, both Dedeaux and Magee have fully recovered from COVID-19, and the family is once again under the same roof.
On May 16, the day that commencement would have taken place, she briefly celebrated her milestone. “I enjoyed tacos with my kids and reminisced about the journey through law school. The full celebration will occur after I take the bar. It will be at that moment that I can truly breathe,” she said. “I have a belief that this will be a great story to tell one day. It will be a story of triumph and resilience, and we will all come out better. That’s what keeps me going.”