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Disabled student plans to walk across graduation stage
Javier Navarro / Staff Writer
A car accident left one UNT student in a wheelchair, but that’s not stopping her from walking across the stage when she graduates next year.
Visual arts studies senior Emily Rose Hernandez was on her regular commute to UNT in 2009 when she drove off the side of a bridge, breaking several bones and leaving her paralyzed.
“I broke my neck, my back, my shoulders, my wrist, my ribs and my lungs collapsed twice and I suffered a brain hemorrhage,” Hernandez said.
She said the brain hemorrhage affected her memory, and that she doesn’t remember how she drove off the bridge or remember waking up in the hospital.
What she does remember is the visit from her neurologist who told her she would not be able to walk again.
While she was surprised by the news, Hernandez said it made her more determined to focus on school and to achieve one goal: to walk across the stage at her college graduation.
“I’m not asking for a miracle of God, I’m just asking to be at the eye-level of my peers,” Hernandez said. “I just want the same recognition not because of my disability, but because of what I’m able to do.”
To make this happen, Hernandez said she wants to invest in a reciprocating gait orthosis brace.
The brace will have her ankles, knees and hip locked in place where she will be able to stand and move her weight on each leg, which will help her walk.
UNT’s Pi Kappa Phi fraternity is helping Hernandez raise the money for the brace, which she said costs almost $10,000. The fraternity has held a few events such as “Marathon of Miracles” where members of the fraternity rode a stationary bike for 72 hours to raise awareness and funds.
Communication studies sophomore and Pi Kappa Phi public relations chair Anthony Brown said the fraternity was told of Hernandez’s story by one of their advisers, and the fraternity immediately wanted to help.
“Emily is one of the most uplifting people I’ve met since I’ve been on campus,” Brown said. “She has the ability to help you see the good in any situation regardless of the mindset that you had prior to talking with her.”
He said the fraternity has raised about $2,300 so far. The fraternity is planning to hold future fundraisers sometime next semester.
Hernandez said she wants to be a high school art teacher after graduation.
“I really want to inspire this love of knowledge, because there’s nothing more valuable than knowledge and that hunger for more,” Hernandez said.
Amelia Kraehe, assistant professor in the department of art education and art history, said she first met Hernandez when she was a student in a class she taught in spring of this year. The class was focused on preparing students who wanted to teach art in schools.
Kraehe said Hernandez is vivacious and very outgoing, which is why she believes Hernandez will do well if she becomes a teacher despite her disability.
“She builds her rapport very easily with people,” Kraehe said. “She works very hard and her enthusiasm and her energy is pretty contagious.”
Hernandez said she is grateful for the support she receives from the people around her, which is why she said she always makes an effort to brighten anyone’s day.
“I try to make everybody’s day just a little better either by telling a joke or getting laughed at because my jokes are so bad,” she said. “I’m just doing my best to make sure that I’m nobody’s thorn, I just want to be their rose.”
Hernandez is expected to graduate in spring 2014 with degrees in art education and studio arts with a concentration in drawing and painting.
Feature photo: Emily Hernandez poses with Pi Kappa Phi members Jamal Sims, Jedon Wimberly, Logan Matlock and Taylor Lindholm during the Marathon of Miracles event. The fraternity group held an event in September to raise money in order to help Hernandez walk across the stage at graduation. Photo courtesy of Pi Kappa Phi