Monday, July 18, 2011

Becoming Dr. Hill

Graduation Day from SCSU with my parents, Chris and Jeff Hill.

July 18, 2011

Tomorrow will be Tuesday July 19, 2011. Tomorrow's date may have little significance for you as a reader, but as for me, I believe that July 19, 2011 may turn out to be a landmark day in my life. You see tomorrow morning I will begin pursuing my doctorate degree at Bethel University in Education Administration.

When I think about the journey ahead a small part of me wonders if pursuing this degree might not be the smartest move I've ever made. There's a $300 monthly student loan bill that I will pay for the next decade upon finishing the program. I've been promised 12-15 hours per week of homework and am predicting that my free time and social life will evaporate as a result.

I suspect that at times I will be discouraged. Even though I absolutely love school and my endorphins seem to fire at the mere thought of studying, I am sure that pursuing this degree will not be a pleasant experience all of the time. In her wonderful book Expecting Adam, Harvard graduate Martha Beck articulates her feelings about pursuing her doctorate in such an accurate way:

You might assume...[that] I found Harvard pleasant. Oh, how wrong you would be. Actually, I don't know if I ever met anyone at Harvard who found it pleasant. It seems to me (although I may well be projecting) that all the people there scurry anxiously from one achievement to another, casting wary glances over their shoulders, never quite sure that they've managed to throw failure off their scent. To me, being a student there was heady, exciting, even thrilling, but these sensations came laced with heavy doses of fear and misery. It was like having lunch with a brilliant, learned, witty celebrity who liked to lean across the table at unpredictable intervals and slap me in the mouth—hard. Was it interesting? Very. Stimulating? In more ways than one. Pleasant? I don't think so.”

What I have found pleasant was the excuse to purchase a new MacBook Pro and finally have high-speed internet installed at my house. My old laptop was purchased in 2002 and has a floppy disk drive, if you can believe that! When I purchased that computer, wireless Internet access wasn't widely used and no one had ever heard of Facebook. It feels good to have new technology at my fingertips!

What I have also found pleasant is the thought of how many doors this opportunity will open for me. I'll be able to increase my earning potential, meet a new cohort of people, and someday pursue career positions as a K-12 principal or make the leap into the world of higher education. I can't wait to crack open a book, engage in a lively debate, and write a research paper!

It's the sheer anticipation of this “heady, exciting, thrilling” experience that has lead me to reflect on how thankful I am to be moving in this direction of pursuing a doctoral degree. I'm thankful that I was raised in a family that values education. I'm also thankful for numerous people in my college career who frequently encouraged me to pursue a doctorate. I'm ultimately thankful that I found a program that fits my needs and I'm even thankful for the student loans that are making this journey financially possible!

First Day of Kindergarten, 1989.  I'm looking up to my older brother Jeremiah who was starting 3rd Grade.

Today has given me pause to reflect and discover that I thankful that I wasn't born a generation earlier, or this opportunity may never have happened. It sounds inconceivable in 2011, but the reality is that had I started kindergarten in 1969, instead of 1989, I may not have had access to the public school system because I am a person with a disability.

Martha Minow, Harvard law professor, published a thought-provoking book last year called In Brown's Wake discussing how the landmark Supreme Court case Brown v. Board of Education continues to impact education today. Minow (2010) writes, “Compulsory education laws in the United States for many years exempted students with mental and physical disabilities, and many such schools excluded students or assigned them to separate institutions well into the 1970s” (p. 69). In 1975, the Education for All Handicapped Children Act (now known as Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, better known as IDEA) mandated that all public schools educate students with disabilities. In 1990, the language of this act was updated to include help for people with disabilities who wished to transition from high school to college. (See a complete special education history timeline).

Granted, I only have mild cerebral palsy, so the accommodations I have needed over the years have been limited. An Individual Education Plan (IEP) gave me access to adaptive education teachers who helped me stretch my hamstrings a few times a week during study hall. I worked with these professionals from kindergarten all the way through HS! It's challenging to keep a straight A student on an IEP, so eventually I transitioned to a 504 plan in HS so that my locker could be centrally located in the building and I could keep an extra set of text books at home so I didn't have to worry about carrying them while maintaing my balance.

While in college, I was able to receive much needed accommodations including extended time on tests in a quiet environment where I could concentrate, and priority registration so that my schedule allowed me to get across campus with as much time as I needed.

These are small things, but so often it is the little things that count.

Graduating on May 14, 2006 from SCSU was the best day of my life. My G.P.A. started with a 4, and my career ended with a speech. (Need some inspiration? My speech is posted above.) My professors gathered around me with my family in a private lunch reception prior to the ceremony to share their sentiments and wish me well. After graduating, I continued on to earn my master's degree before entering the field of education. It was the family tradition (I am a third-generation educator and one of over 10 family members who teach) and the love of learning that inspired me to become an educator, but it is the students I have met that will keep me in the field. They truly have expanded my capacity to love!

I look forward to the years ahead toward becoming Dr. Hill.

Author's note:  I found some follow up videos that you may be interested in looking at:

Team Hoyt (Related post: Team Hoyt, June 19th) sent me a recent video of an interview conducted by "HBO Real Sports With Bryan Gumbel"  Watch the interview below:
 I also found a young man with cerebral palsy named Gregg Mozgala, who certainly has the courage to dance.  Enjoy!  (Related post:  The Courage to Dance,  June 6, 2011).

Sources Cited:
The except from Expecting Adam came from the New York Times Website:

Beck, M. (1999). Expecting Adam. New York, NY: Berkley Books.

Minow, M. (2010). In Brown's wake. New York, NY: Oxford University Press, Inc.

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