Saturday, August 23, 2008

Quadriplegic Graduates with 4.0

The purpose of my blog is to show how wheelchair users, especially power wheelchair users, can be and are being empowered -- mostly through sport (bowling and power soccer). But perhaps the MOST empowering activity one can do is to increase his/her education. Increasing one's education is arguably more important for someone with a significant physical disability, since it isn't possible to earn a living doing manual labor. Apparently, education level can impact happiness too.

With regard to quadriplegics, I read that quads who continue or "complete" their education (and perhaps those who achieved higher education before becoming quadriplegic) are often happier than quads with less education. I believe being happy is a choice that essentially anyone can make, regardless of education level or even disability, but I do see how achieving higher education can help someone feel happy. Thinking about my long educational journey and the challenges I conquered... it is something I will always appreciate and can feel good about. Here are some details...

I became a quadriplegic literally 11 years ago today -- August 23rd, 1997. I was injured just before I was to begin my senior year at THE University of Florida as a math major. I spent three months in hospitals and was discharged from Shepherd Center in Atlanta as a C1-2 ventilator-dependent quadriplegic (much like Christopher Reeve). I had to move home with my parents and team of family caregivers who cover all times when we don't have a nurse (I currently have 40 hours of nursing coverage a week). I've been as busy and productive as possible since returning home (I haven't spent one full day in bed, ever since I've been home). With good caregivers & caregiver routines, I have been quite healthy, despite my paralysis (knock on wood and thank you God:).

But I plan to be financially independent one day -- whether still paralyzed or not. That meant going back to school, and there is only one school from which I ever wanted to graduate -- UF. To go back required an online option, and boy was I THRILLED to learn they have an Online BSBA Program (Bachelor of Science degree in Business Administration). I needed some prerequisites, which UF advisor Jill Lingard told me I could acquire online via St. Petersburg College (one can earn an entire AA degree online via their eCampus). I actually started back to school four years ago today -- on the 7th anniversary of my injury.

I completed the Online BSBA Program with a 4.0 GPA (straight A average) and graduated with honors from the University of Florida two weeks ago -- August 9, 2008. It was important to me to "ace" the Program because I wanted to demonstrate that I can be highly successful despite being vent-dependent and paralyzed from the neck down. And I actually rolled across the stage in Gainesville, too.

I almost did not get to roll across the graduation stage. My wheelchair is extra long, largely due to the ventilator on back. UF has a hydraulic lift to raise wheelchair users to the stage, except it wasn't designed with chairs like mine in mind. I was barely in what was like a metal box, and my feet were pushing the door forward. As they tried to raise me the door caught the stage -- and the STAGE WAS COMING UP! That happened twice! Finally, on the third attempt, some people pushed the door back away from the stage and the lift cleared.

You can see me roll across the stage on UF's webcast of the graduation ceremony (commencement) at the below link (on that page, scroll down to "Previous Commencement Webcasts" then choose morning ceremony and your desired player). I roll across at about one hour, 25 minutes, and 30 seconds. Start about 1:24:30 and you'll see the UF official in the Orange & Blue robe who is ushering students through. You'll see him stop the line and take a couple steps forward. That's when the stage was coming up; he was telling them to stop and go back down. Then you'll see me roll across the stage. Click HERE for the commencement page!

Also, if you go to the Online BSBA web page, you'll see a picture of the summer graduates and I'm on the right side of the picture -- click HERE (ok they apparently already removed the picture, but I did a "print screen" command and captured it; click HERE for the picture!).

I shared my "full" educational journey on my website before writing this blog entry. I shared some different things above, and if you want additional details on my educational journey and where I'm planning to "go" from here... click HERE! Thanks...

Bill Miller :-)
C1-2 Quadriplegic with a 206 High Bowling Game
Co-founder of Manufacturing Genuine Thrills Inc. d/b/a MGT
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