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Student Stories

My College Experience

by Mary Hettel
Originally published by The Journal, University of Illinois Springfield
Photo by Mayur Thulasidas

Mart Hettel

As my graduation date is in the near sight, I want to reflect on my college career and those who made it possible for me to get to where I am today. It has not been easy and not always fun, but people’s belief in me kept my inspiration alive. I have had easier classes than others, have met countless amazing people, had good times, not so easy experiences, spent many more hours on homework, just as any other college student. Right? Oh yeah, did I mention I have Cerebral Palsy? It only seems fair to start my undergraduate story at the beginning, so here it goes.

It started in mid August 2005, at Southern Illinois University at Carbondale just taking my general education courses. I did enroll as a social work major, but I really did not know what I wanted to study. At the same time, I was learning how to deal with my disability in a new environment, away from home. I literally taught myself how to hire personal assistants, and how to use my accommodations in college while figuring out all of the aspects of being a freshman in college. Somehow, I managed to get through that semester. I really enjoyed my new independence.

I went to see my school teams in action at both football and basketball games. I distinctly remember one time, before a football game, the SIUC band danced right on by me. They also had a recreation program for people with disabilities that I took full advantage of. I watched the Chicago Bears play in the super bowl game with a bunch of friends, and watched the White Sox win the World Series. Sitting in my first class starting my third year, something did not feel right. Within the week, my parents came down and took me home to see my psychiatrist and planned on taking me back to school. I guess that wasn’t meant to be as my doctor put me in the hospital to manage my depression and told my parents to withdrawal me from my classes and move me back home.

After taking the semester off to feel better and making some changes in my life, I took online courses through SIUC, that spring, summer and fall as I still wanted to go back to the campus I loved, but it never happened. I went to my community college and earned my associate’s degree. It was there, where I met the education recruiter and finally enrolled at the University of Illinois at Springfield to finish up my bachelor’s degree in Social Work!

I have to admit that I was accepted here as well as SIUC, I choose the other school because it was bigger and I was used to big schools, it was also more accessible as Founder’s wasn’t built yet, and I wanted the experience of being on a huge campus. I do not regret going there as I had awesome experiences while I spent time in the southern portion of our state. I rarely regret anything because it is another lesson learned in life.

UIS welcomed me with open arms and hasn’t closed them yet! From the caring professors in the Social Work department, to the amazing staff at the Office of Disability Services, the people from the Counseling Center, to the amazing food service providers, the inclusion of the student life office and other students made it possible for me to be successful! To all of you, thank you.

I was hospitalized at Memorial once again for depression, but after I was discharged I was right back to school. I knew a wonderful person who happened to be a personal assistant, before I ever thought to apply here. She has helped me find so many great caregivers to make sure that all of my needs are met. Thank you to all of you as well!

The most important part of my support system is my family back home in Marseilles, Il. You guys mean the world to me; I know how lucky I am to have a loving family. Thank you so much for always being there for me! And to God and Jesus, my Lord, thank you for making my life not only possible, but so enriched, diverse, and fulfilled in so many ways!

Outside of academic work there is so much that is offered on campus. The plays, shows, demonstrations, concerts have also enhanced my college experience. One of my favorite places to be on campus was TRAC, watching my basketball teams in action. Perhaps, my favorite game was when the boys fought so hard to win and advanced to the first round of the play offs. The game was exciting as it was so close, not to mention that my sister was here to watch it with me!

This school year, I have had the honor, pleasure, joy, and responsibilities to be the president of Delta Sigma Omicron, to promote disability awareness. Thanks to all of those who have helped make it successful.

Well that’s my college journey. A well rounded one too! Looking into the near future I hope to start my social work career in Springfield for a couple of years before pursuing a master’s degree and perhaps a doctorate. I will never stop learning regardless of what happens. Jesus has laid a path for me to follow and that’s what I will do every day that I live.

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