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Art student beats deadly kidney disease, now faces school's closure

An Art Institute of Virginia Beach student was earning a degree when he had to fight a deadly disease. He now faces the closure of his school.
Art student beats deadly kidney disease, now faces school's closure
Posted at 7:32 PM, Oct 10, 2023

Myles Grate uses his gift for creating art, specifically superheroes, to help him overcome incredible odds. 

As a college student at the Art Institute in Virginia Beach, Virginia, he was honing his skills to expand on his dreams. That was until its abrupt closure in September.

"It hurts a lot," Grate said earlier this month. "I felt lost."

I first met Grate in 2018 when he was a 17-year-old high school student in Chesapeake facing a rare and deadly kidney disease. He needed an organ transplant to save his life.

"Try to have faith like I do," he said ahead of a dialysis appointment five years ago. "It's a matter of when, not if [I get a new kidney]."

Two years later, in the summer of 2020, a deceased donor was found to be a match. The transplant surgery was a success.

"I felt like I got a new, fresh start," said Grate. "I felt like I could breathe!"

Grate became a student at the Art Institute in Virginia Beach, where he was earning a degree while working on his dreams of creating his generation's league of superheroes. 

He said the campus also gave the Superman within him a place to feel at home.

"It's as if Krypton never blew up," said Grate, a reference to the story of Superman's home planet. "It was amazing."

Grate's so-called Krypton was figuratively destroyed when the business behind the Art Institute of Virginia Beach abruptly shut down the campus, along with seven other campuses nationwide. 

Grate said he, his classmates and professors learned of the school's closure through an email.

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"The things that I look forward to [were] all gone — just in one email," Grate said.

The Art Institute's closure came after a rocky past for the companies behind the schools. The Education Management Corporation settled a $95 million dollar lawsuit over claims of illegal recruiting and consumer fraud in 2015. 

Years later, in 2018, the faith-based Dream Center Education Holdings settled a class-action lawsuit over misleading students about accreditation status at some of its schools. 

The Virginia Beach campus was one of eight Art Institute schools that remained nationwide — until they were all shut down last month.

I asked Grate, "Were there things that were happening leading up to the closure that made you think something's not right here?"

"Always," he said. "It was really hard to find professors ... I didn't think it was going to close, but it was always on the edge of the cliff."

He told me he was facing the hiccup with strength, and said, "I faced tough before."

Grate said he is still determined to bring his superhero-sized dreams to life, centered around his character Mylo Grant. He has his sights set on earning an apprenticeship, and he dreams of working for Cartoon Network.

"This is all on me to kind of make it happen," he told me.

Grate says it's important to acknowledge the professors and staff who supported him and abruptly lost their jobs. He said Professor SharaLee Roberts and his boss Cheritta Crenshaw taught him the importance of being a good leader.

"Mrs. Katrina, the security guard, taught me the right way to be nice to people," he said.

A spokesperson for the U.S. Department of Education said the closure impacts an estimated 1,700 students enrolled for in-person and online classes. The department has posted a closed school fact sheet and a recent webinar recording, and said they "will email students impacted by the closure of the Art Institute to tell them about these and other important resources."

Grate was one of an estimated 100,000 people around the U.S. awaiting a kidney transplant, according to the National Kidney Foundation. 

The organization says on average, 13 people die each day waiting for a transplant.

"What's better than not helping anybody is helping one person," Grate said in 2018.

This story was originally published by Jessica Larché at Scripps News Norfolk in Virginia. 

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