Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Cap and Crown

One day back in January I opened up Facebook and saw that I had a message. When I opened that message, I was in shock and completely humbled. That message was Sammy asking if I would be like to be a guest speaker at graduation in May.

Eagerly accepting, thoughts began to run wild in my head and I immediately began thinking what would I talk about? I’m only 25 years…not too many years older than these seniors…what “great advice” can I give to them?  I knew the only thing I could really speak on was what I know…and that is what I have been through and the lessons I’ve learned from it. And then when I found out my dear friend and co-worker Scott was going to speak as well, I knew it was going to be amazing. 

Scott giving the Invocation
There are 15 young men and women in the BHS 2012 Senior Class and each of them are unique in their own way and so talented.  Just this year they have accomplished so much - numerous members of the class helped bring home a State Championship title in Scholars Bowl, others participated in State Forensics, and four of the senior ladies made a trip to State Volleyball. They have extremely bright futures and I cannot wait to see where they go in life.

BHS Class of 2012
I woke up on Saturday feeling great...for the first time in about a week or so I had gotten a good night’s rest. I had no nerves, just ready for the day! Well, the nerves hit me about noon and I wasn’t sure if I would be able to make it to 4 o’clock. Telling my story in front of a gym, full of people…giving advice to fifteen seniors…I was a nervous wreck, but when Abbi got up and made her introduction (thankfully it did not make me cry), I wheeled my way up to the mic, swallowed my nervousness, and began.

I was shocked and truly humbled when I looked up and the entire crowd was on their feet clapping. This was my community and these are the people who have supported me throughout my entire life…to see them showing me so much love and support reconfirmed how truly blessed I am.

The Senior Class of 2012 was the 100th class to graduate from Bucklin High School and I was honored that I was asked to take part in such a momentous day. Thank you seniors, as this is a day I will never forget.


For those of you who missed it and are interested in my speech…here you go!

Wow, it feels almost like yesterday that I sat in Jeff Torline’s chair listening to Mrs. Rhodes give our commencement speech while waiting to walk across this stage and if you would have told me 7 years ago I’d be up on this stage again, I would have never believed you. In fact, I wouldn’t have believed you if you would have told me anything that has taken place in these past years.

After graduating from BHS, I was ready to get out of this town – ready to start something new. I chose to do that at Pratt Community College where I studied Accounting, but never actually took an Accounting class, and I played volleyball. It was a great year, filled with a ton of memories, and when I graduated in May of 2006, I felt as if I knew exactly what I was going to do with my life. I was ready to head to Hays to finish my Bachelor’s degree and have fun…I was ready to start my life.

My plans took a drastic turn on July 22, 2006 when I dove from a tree into the Illinois River near Tallequah, OK. It was there that I crushed my C5 vertebrae and bruised my spinal cord, leaving me a C5-C6 quadriplegic.  After a lifetime of being an athlete who was extremely active, I found myself lying in a hospital bed, barely able to lift my head off my pillow or move my arms. After two weeks at St. John’s in Tulsa, I was transferred to TIRR in Houston to complete my initial rehab phase and to learn the adjustments of living with a spinal cord injury. Six weeks after my accident, I returned home for the first time on September 7, 2006.

Since my initial rehab in Houston, I have traveled back to Houston two other times within the year of 2007 and went to Detroit every summer from 2008-2010.

In 2007, I started back to work part-time at BTI and I began to pursue my Bachelor’s degree, taking classes from Fort Hays State University’s online program. I majored in Management with a concentration in Human Resources and finally in May of 2009, I graduated. It was then when I began working full-time for BTI as their HR Coordinator.

I have been told that what I have accomplished since the on-set of my injury has been remarkable; however, for me it has been nothing but my day-to-day life – but I do know that I wouldn’t have been able to accomplish what I have without a few things: my faith, family and friends, a good work ethic, and knowing who I was and who I wanted to become.

Throughout my entire life, especially the last 6 years, my faith has been my refuge. When doubt begins to set in my mind and I begin to ask why, I try to remember as quickly as possible that I am in good hands and “with God all things are possible.”

There is no way in the world that I would be where I am now without the support of my family, friends, and this community.  I have been blessed, and you, seniors, have been blessed, to grow up here and be a part of a tight-knit community – a community that cares about one another, supports your activities, and comes together in times of need.  I know that you guys are itching to walk across this stage and start a new chapter in your life, but please don’t forget who has helped you along your way and all the memories you’ve made up and down these halls.

Speaking of memories, some of my best high school memories took place in this gym. This is the place where I learned that hard work and practice paid off, as we brought home as many wins as possible during my four years. When I got hurt, I knew that if I would take that mentality and work ethic into physical therapy, I would succeed. I first thought and even told some people, “I’ve been in physical therapy before…my spinal cord is just bruised… if I work hard enough, I’ll be walking by Christmas.” That was my little bout of denial, which I quickly came out of, but I still knew that if I was going to improve, I needed to work hard every day in PT…just as I had in high school and college, and just like you seniors have for the past four years. Because of that hard work and perseverance, I learned to sit up on my own, do quite a bit of my care myself, and most of all be able to push myself around. 

This class knows a few things about hard work – look around at these banners…State Scholars Bowl Champs, State Forensics participants, and trip to Hays for State Volleyball for four of these ladies, not mention those who will be competing for State Track here in two weeks. They have put a significant amount of blood, sweat and tears…not to mention time…for what they have accomplished and I, personally, couldn’t be more proud of them. You seniors also know a thing or two about perseverance. When you lost Zac last year, you kept going forward, putting one foot in front of the other even if it felt as if you were going nowhere. You have handled adversity with upmost dignity and grace….and now you have a guardian angel throughout all your journeys in life.

Last, but not least, I credit my success to knowing who I am and who I want to be. I had a plan when I graduated high school and although it didn’t work out; I have a new plan now. Because of my accident, I have realized the importance of being true to oneself and that is why I chose my platform for Ms. Wheelchair Kansas to be about Empowering Youth to Define Themselves. I am constantly saying that one must not let certain situations or other people define who they are, so seniors, please know that who you are is defined by what you make of certain situations, how you treat people, and how you inwardly reflect – not by who’s child you are, where you grew up, or how successful you are. 

Seniors, I know you all have a plan for the future and I know that you have a great sense of who you are, but please remember to not take anything for granted because life can change in an instant. Remember to work hard at everything you do because it will pay off in some way or another; always be respectful and responsible for you never know who is watching and treat every situation as an opportunity because you never know what might come of it. Please, do not be afraid to make mistakes, they are inevitable; but most importantly I want you to remember to have fun and enjoy all the days ahead of you.

I want to thank you all again for allowing me to speak on this momentous day and to you seniors, good luck with all your future endeavors…I am extremely proud of you and can’t wait to see what your futures hold. 

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