Long Time Coming: Cerebral Palsy Won't Stop University of Michigan-Flint Student from Graduating after 14 Years

Long Time Coming: Cerebral Palsy Won't Stop University of Michigan-Flint Student from Graduating after 14 Years
April 30, 2014/MLive

FLINT, MI – Giving up was not an option for Tim Elliott.

Diagnosed with cerebral palsy when he was 9 months old, Elliott was determined not to let his disability keep him from getting a college degree.

Now -- 14 years after he took his first class at the University of Michigan-Flint -- Elliott will finally cross the stage to receive his bachelor's degree in computer science this weekend.

What will he be thinking at that moment? "Holy cow, I finally made it."

It hasn't been easy.

Confined to a motorized wheelchair, his right hand is the only small bit of fine motor skills that Elliott has left. As a result, it took him a little longer to accomplish tests and quizzes and his classload was two or three classes a semester.

After graduating from Lapeer West High School in 2000, he enrolled in UM-Flint that fall with no real idea on what he wanted to study.

"I wanted to go to college because that's what people do after high school," Elliott said.

He never figured that his college career would span two presidents, the 2001 terrorist attacks, Hurricane Katrina and seven Olympics.

"The biggest thing I've learned during my time in college that learning required you to be open-minded," said Elliott, whose passion for video games and 3D design pushed him toward computer science. "I needed to be patience and persistent!"

He's learned a lot, worked through a lot and made an impact on campus in his 14 years. He's been highly involved in helping professors with research and volunteering his time. Elliott was a member of the Kappa Sigma fraternity and attended many campus events.

Throughout his 14 years at UM-Flint he showed great determination and inspired those he met along the way, said Mary Jo Sekelsky, vice chancellor for student affairs.

Sekelsky met Elliott when he came to campus in 2000 and she's gotten to know him better with each passing year.

"I've learned a lot of things about Tim. And I've so much from Tim," she said. "Tim has such a beautiful outlook on life. He is such a determined young man and came here in 2000 with the goal of not only getting his bachelor's degree but really finding his independence, if you will, as an adult.

"When we go to college it's an opportunity for us to explore our identities and learn about other people, begin this process of really discovering the world. And Tim came to that with this level of enthusiasm and energy that he has maintained for 14 years. He's such a joy to spend time with and he has really blossomed during the time that he has been and University of Michigan-Flint."

And he's definitely grown and gained his independence. When he first came to UM-Flint he had an aid with him to help him out, but he wanted to move away from that, Sekelsky said. He wanted people to know him and not his aid, she said.

Elliott is among the 788 students who will receive their degrees Sunday, May 4, at Perani Arena in Flint.

Elliott has big goals and dreams for the future, one of which includes being able to walk. Academics and a future career, continue to improve his physical fitness, learn more about Scientology and spirituality and find a girlfriend are his top four goals for the future, he said.

Mike Farmer, associate professor of computer sciences at UM-Flint, had Elliott in several of his classes over the years and he said he's so proud of what he's accomplished.

Dedication, persistence and perseverance are the words he would use to describe Elliott.

"The guy's just got incredible tenacity," Farmer said. "Life always throws you curve ball. It's easy to say the heck with it. When you meet with Tim ... you don't give up on anything. (He teaches us that) you can persevere if you put your mind to it."

And Elliott excelled in the computer sciences courses, even the hardest ones, Farmer said. In every class, Elliott will do what he has to do master every task, he said.

He wasn't just doing the task to check off a box and slide through the class, Farmer said.

"He's a great developer. He's going to do a great job out there," Farmer said. "He worked in each class to master things and not just get by. ... He's ready to just dive into projects and start working with a team."

Sekelsky said students and staff alike know who Elliott is across campus. He's made himself known and became a positive influence, she said.

"He's a great guy and just a really beautiful example of someone of who is not going to turn around and run the other way because he's encountered an obstacle," she said. "Tim exudes warmth and he brings out the best in other people. I think that's part of what students have learned from Tim. Tim brings out the best in us.

"I'm very proud of Tim and I look for him to do great things."

If Elliott had to give one piece of advice to students or anyone else it would be simple.

"If they want something bad enough, they can do it."

Posted on Wednesday, April 30, 2014 (Archive on Monday, January 01, 0001)
Posted by rcline  Contributed by rcline
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