John N. Gardner Institute for Excellence in Undergraduate Education

Students Give Me Hope and Inspiration

John N. Gardner

This posting is inspired by my attendance recently at a play at Blue Ridge Community College, in Hendersonville, N.C., which is about 20 miles from my and my wife’s home.  This was a production of the British drama classic, Pride and Prejudice. We had gone originally to see a friend and spouse of one of our office colleagues, Rick Huhn, perform in his rendition of the father character.

Of course, my readers would fully appreciate the commitment of our nation’s community college to open door access and to the education of some of our least advantaged and least fortunate students. Typically these prior circumstances of our students are defined in terms of socio-economic status and level of academic preparation.

But in this particular performance what most caught my attention was that two of the five daughters in the plot were students with visible special conditions.

One female student acted as she sat in a wheel chair, the mechanical sophistication of which surely would not have been possible in the 19th century period she was portraying. And one of the ways she carried off her performance was to dance, literally, from her rapidly spinning, twirling wheel chair pirouetting around her happy male partner. Her face conveyed that mode of mobility could not possibly be construed as anything other than perfectly normal, which for her it was. And her face and entire body conveyed the maximum possible bliss that anyone could derive from dancing. I later learned that this student had a spinal injury from an automobile accident.

And simultaneously there was another student actress, sister, who performed with a special partner, namely, a trained dog, the kind used to protect people with a history of seizures.

So there these two students were, at the same time, having the times of their lives and giving the same to an appreciative audience.

I came away from this even more fully appreciating so many things about our students: their diversity, courage, abilities, optimism, tenacity, perseverance and joie de vivre.

And I came away really appreciating this open door college for having an obviously not well funded theater program at all, but at least they had one; and for giving these students such an affirming developmental experience, that was truly educational and inspirational for many members of the audience I am sure.

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