When I first came to UNF in 2003 to earn my bachelor’s degree, I was a nontraditional student; I worked full-time, went to school full time and did not make extra time to get engaged in campus life. However, when I started graduate school, I was exposed to opportunities that made me realize that college life had many perks of which I could take advantage.
I also didn't realize until coming to UNF that accommodations were available for my disability (I am legally blind as a result of retinitis pigmentosa, an inherited degenerative disease I was diagnosed with at age 6). Working with the Disability Resource Center, I learned to advocate for myself. Going to college is stressful for anyone; UNF’s Disability Resource Center helped me keep the stress under control.
One of those stressful times was during my last semester before graduating in 2007. My guide dog Shay-Bay's health was declining. I'd depended on her to help me navigate campus, comfort me during the stress of finals week and help other students understand more about people with disabilities. Fearing retirement was just around the corner for her, my only thought was that I needed her by my side as I received my diploma.
Unsure of how Shay would handle the pressure of graduation festivities, I contacted the DRC for advice. One of the staff, Deborah Lenehan, went above and beyond the call of duty and helped us with a run-through of the event, rehearsing over and over again until I was confident Shay had memorized the route and could guide both of us across the stage. Graduation day went off without a hitch! That memory of graduating with her is one that will never fade in my mind. Walking with my new guide dog, O'Malley, this spring as I received my Master of Education in Disability Services in Spring 2011 was also a highlight I will never forget.
During my last two years of grad school, I was able to experience more of what campus life has to offer. I found amazing professors who eagerly shared their knowledge with students outside of the classroom — and classmates who challenged my thoughts and constantly inspired me to do more, to do better. Once I started to take notice of the many great options available to us on campus, my experience at UNF was completely enhanced. My advice to people new to UNF would be this: When you think you've figured out all that UNF can offer you, keep looking. There are endless resources and opportunities for you to develop as a person and professional.