Six years ago, Kristy Lee Hammond fled her demons in Syracuse, N.Y., and took shelter in a shady arbor of James Island County Park.

Homeless and drug-addicted, she forged a new path out of the woods. The 25-year-old will graduate Friday from Trident Technical College with an associate degree in hospitality and tourism management.

Nearly 600 graduating students are participating, out of more than 1,600 who are eligible, comprising Trident's largest graduating class. On Saturday, more than 2,000 students will carry their degrees home from Charleston Southern University, College of Charleston and The Citadel.

"Something just happened inside of me," Hammond said. "There was more to life than this."

Her new life began in the park's primitive camp, with no water or electricity. For $13 a night she slept on top of a picnic table, covered with a tarp while her dogs huddled below.

Hammond crackles with sunny energy and reaches out her hand when she talks to people, a bridging gesture. In a few weeks, she had a job at the park and moved into a rental home.

Patricia Agnew, department head of hospitality and tourism management at Trident, advised and taught Hammond. "She throws herself into whatever she's doing completely," she said. "I was a little bit surprised to learn her story because she is so focused and deliberate in her planning."

Read more in tomorrow's editions of The Post and Courier.