Twelve Years – Four Degrees

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College hasn’t been easy

It isn’t scrambling in the final four weeks to get everything done, toga parties, or even late-night chats in a friend’s dorm room about the mundane. No. Life hasn’t followed that particular arc for me. No. College has been more than just 4 years for me. Multiply the average by four; you have the total time I have been rolling around this campus. I was here before Jane. I was here before the North Star of IUP came raining down on Keith. Who decided North and Northern should be in the same area? Head desk that is confusing even for the veterans.

Sutton still boasts ravines running the length of its main entrance. With enough speed, one might reminisce of a time on the ocean as they careen down the uneven floors of the basement. Or perhaps that luxury is reserved for those gifted with wheels. The elevator is still ancient and terrifying. That hasn’t changed. Does Driscoll have a private entrance? Others will tell you of times before when the football field rested where I currently sit typing. I can remember trudging to Foster Hall in sheets of white rain, hoping it might stop. It did as soon as we lined up to swipe in. Typical IUP.

We did determine back in 2011, that IUP receives more rain, and wind, on average than surrounding areas. Just saying.

I have watched the landscape change, disappear, reappear and change some more. Familiar pathways now barred by broken fences (left open the majority of the time) contain cherished memories now piles of rubble. Are thoughts piles of rubble? When we forget, do our memories disintegrate into indescribable living piles of forgotten personal lore?

I am off-topic again. Sigh.

My career here at IUP is on the cusp of complete disaster. Everything in the past 11 years that I have put into this degree is also at risk.

I can’t say that I have been fully focused on the degree for the ‘full’ time here. Initially, in 2011, I was like every other newbie. I pissed around and took my classes half-assed-seriously like everyone else. September 26, 2011 changed everything. Around 11 am I woke up completely unable to move. The high-pitched squealing that I had initially thought to be the fire alarm… was actually my breathing. I was completely paralyzed. I was then life flighted to Pittsburgh where a diagnosis of Transverse Myelitis would be given. Despite the illness, paralysis, and subsequent need to learn how to use a wheelchair – I returned to school.

I used to throw myself off of big stuff. Intelligent, I know.

Learning to use a wheelchair is far more complicated than it looks. No, it isn’t just grabbing the shiny circles and pushing.

There is so much involved:

  • Turning
  • Stopping
  • Spinning
  • Backing up
  • Moving in tight spaces
  • Bunny-hopping sideways (yes, that’s a thing)
  • Ascending/ descending ramps or curbs
  • Ascending/descending stairs if necessary
  • Moving external objects while seated
  • Learning not to slam your kneecaps off of every low surface
  • Dealing with pissing yourself in public
  • Pressure ulcers from sitting too long
  • And so much more

One classroom in Keith Hall had a ramp going down into it. The ramp was by no means up to standards, boasting a steep 60-degree incline. In wet shoes, not even the students could safely use it. The professor, Dr. Finnegan, helped me after every class by pushing me up the ramp at the conclusion. Back then, yes, it was embarrassing.

When aggregate and mud did not cover the north side of campus, a long stretch of sidewalk split Leonard and Wilson halls. Previously the main vein for foot traffic, the long sidewalk had a sharp increase in steepness towards the distal portion as it split into a fork, accommodating the Garden Club’s creation. In the middle of the pathway, one could bear left to take a ramp into the side of Leonard hall (a secret entrance for V.ery I.mportant C.ripples).

This is pertinent soon.

During the second to last winter, I experienced before having to bow out of IUP the first time was particularly brutal. It became what drove me off of campus once and for all.

It was a typical Pennsylvania winter, except one thing was out of place. My legs, typically brandishing ski boots, were encased in canvas shoes and a small blanket for warmth. A lot of heat is lost through paralyzed limbs due to a fundamental lack of motion and, therefore, circulation.

In typical Pennsylvania fashion, the rain had fallen earlier in the morning, coating the ground with a thin layer of ice. Later that morning, snow covered the ice, leaving a thick, wet layer of gunk.

My first wheelchair.

Leonard Hall was visible from the dorm I lived in, and the entrance I needed to reach was as well. It took me half an hour to make it a football field’s length to the building. However, as I was pushing up the steep and snowy hill – I got stuck. Really stuck. My handrims iced over, cutting through my neoprene gloves and into my fingers. The snow, wet with rain, lodged itself into my handrims and filled in the cracks of my tires. I was stuck. Stuck five feet from the door in subzero temperatures. I cried. Right there.

Nothing is more frustrating than being barred from normalcy by something vastly out of your control. I was cold, wet, and firmly lodged in the grip of the snow.

I can’t remember if that was the moment that I quit. There was no specific moment that I can remember, but I know that day was one of the last days I spent here.

Shortly after that day, I spent more and more time at home. The anxiety of my condition – the fear and loathing of being disabled washed over me. It drowned me. I sunk deep into the ocean of depression and, shortly after… left the university. I didn’t belong here. Disabled students didn’t belong here.

Seven years later, I returned. In those seven years, I moved cross-country, got married, died, traveled the country, and got a divorce. It was only after many years of aimlessly wandering did I realize my future.

I returned to IUP in 2021 after several years of critical illness. I decided that this degree would be the one thing I would complete before passing. So, I returned. I was serious this time, too. I came back and have not missed the Dean’s List since. I am very serious about my future, and have even begun making big moves in my writing career to boost my success moving forward.

Check out Para-Ice Hockey for more information on wtf this is.

However, my degree is in jeopardy. Due to funding, and debt, IUP has decided that I cannot finish my degree until I come up with 15k. That isn’t going to happen.

Everything, literally everything, rides on this degree. I have planned my future and changed my trajectory. I have decided that I want to follow my passion and write professionally. I want to continue my career and pursue a Ph.D. in creative writing at the University of Arizona.

However, in the past few weeks, while I have been in and out of the hospital for a blood infection, I was informed that my student balance is too high to register for my remaining three classes.

Twelve years and my degree is potentially denied based on 10 credits.

Getting caught up on Spanish post-hospitalization

I have put so much time, effort, and sanity into this. It is incredibly frustrating to be in a position like such. When I returned in 2021, I made a promise to myself.

I will get this degree if it is the last thing I do before I die.

Now that my future is more secure, I have to plan as my health slowly improves. I never needed to plan in the past because there was no future to plan for. The doctors said, “You will likely not survive if your health doesn’t make a drastic turnaround.” I have begun that drastic turnaround.

My focus has primarily been split between studies, health, and sports. My health has improved; as a result, my participation in my athletic career has helped me stay strong and healthy. Staying strong and healthy has unfurled into a long list of opportunities from which I can actually choose what I want to do with my future.

2017-2020 weight change

I now have the opportunity to create long-lasting relationships and maintain them. I can look forward to a future with a family, a loving companion, a career, and so much more.

This isn’t to say that all of that is null and void without the degree I have spent so much time on. No. However, it would be nice not to struggle. I would prefer that things work out as planned. Graduate, get a degree, get accepted into an MFA program, go to program, graduate, get a degree, get accepted into a PhD program, graduate, and then become a professor while writing dreadful horror stories.

Fast forward.

We have tried many different ways to find a way to fund my final semester; however, yesterday, we received confirmation that I will not be funded by the university to finish.

Despite attending classes from the ICU on Zoom, showing up hooked to IVs and oxygen, and going to class despite the next move being via ambulance. I have given everything for this piece of paper – this ticket to the next step.

We have contacted as many people as possible, short of the president himself.
I will sit on his stoop until I am granted an audience.

I refuse to give up.

One response to “Twelve Years – Four Degrees”

  1. Bukenya Stephen Avatar

    Nice looking.

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