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COLUMN: Stay strong

As we are approaching finals week and the end of the semester, our stress levels begin to rise. For me, this time is a chance to reflect on my college years and appreciate all the help I have been granted, as my college experience has been a unique one.

In 2011, I fell off a two-story apartment balcony during a party that was in the process of being busted.

That fall landed me in a coma for the next three weeks, putting me in a fight for my life. There was even one doctor who told one of my friends to say goodbye to me because he thought I wouldn’t live through the next few days.

Fast forward two and a half years, and I have beaten the odds. I will be graduating next weekend.

My accident changed my life. After waking up and having no memory of the whole month after the incident, I had to re-learn the most basic functions of life: Walking, talking, sitting in a chair, swallowing and much more.

These are actions we take for granted every single day.

As a 21-year-old, I had to start from scratch. But through hard work, determination and plenty of support, I will be walking across the stage next weekend to receive my diploma.

But my journey has not been easy.

Starting from scratch

After missing only one semester, I returned to campus as a part-time junior. I was now a student with a disability.

I was a student who was on a reduced course load – a student who couldn’t talk right or take his own notes.

Before my accident, I made the dean’s list with no challenges. Now, I had to deal with finding a note-taker in class, start reviewing my notes weeks before the exam and take tests in an alternative room.

I had to do all this while finishing up two classes from before the accident, in addition to the three new classes I was taking. I also had speech therapy and had to adjust my study habits.

This was a challenge, as one of the effects I suffered from due to the accident was short-term memory loss.

College was no longer easy for me. In fact, it was one of the biggest challenges of my life.

Adjusting to change

It took me two years to finish my junior year. There was even a point where I thought about not returning to CMU.

The summer leading into my senior year, someone told me to change my major of broadcasting because of my speech impediment. That was very hard for me to accept, because since a young age, I have known what I wanted to major in.

With just weeks before school starting, I decided to keep my major – but go in a different direction.

The year after the accident brought me many new challenges. I was still on a reduced workload, and instead of graduating last Spring, I had to delay it one more semester. I started to question my future. How would I get an internship? How would I get a job? Would I even be successful?

This semester hasn’t been easy.

I am studying all the time for the toughest class in my major. But with strong support from friends and family, and with the constant reminder of how far I have come, I did it.

If you are stressing out about your finals, and feel like you can’t do it, don’t give up. Through hard work and determination, anything is possible.

While exam week is tough, things could always be worse.

No one knows if I will ever fully recover from my accident or if my speech will come back 100 percent. What I do know is I can only control what is in front of me. My journey won’t stop once I graduate. I will continue to seek help from other speech therapists in hopes to fully regain my speech.

I have learned to approach each day one step at a time, challenge-after-challenge, because I don’t know what is next. We all go through struggles in college – It’s part of growing up.

You may be dealing with stress about your finals, struggling with a job, money, family issues or your future, but don’t give up. Try to step back and think about other struggles that your fellow students are going through. You are not alone.

I will leave you with some words that have helped my family, friends and me since my accident: Stay strong.

4 Comments

  1. What an inspirational story! I was truly moved by your words. You will never know how much you’ve helped others through writing about your experiences and challenges. Thank you for your courage and determination in sharing your journey. I believe you will find success in whatever you do in life. God bless you, Matt.

  2. Kevin Belaen says:

    Matt, thank you for going out of your way to motivate others to stay strong throughout their finals. At times, I feel that school is beyond stressful, but reading this made me realize that I take a lot for granted. I cannot even imagine the stress you deal with everyday and I hope that all goes well, don’t give up!! You are in my prayers, God bless!
    -Kevin

  3. Kelli Jankens says:

    Matt’s story is not only inspiring on paper, it’s even more amazing in person. Matt is a talented and gifted speaker and has spoken to hundreds of middle and high school students through our ThinkFirst for Teens program. He delivers a powerful message about staying safe and staying strong. The kids love him – way to go Matt!

  4. Matt, it’s been a pleasure working with you on your field study. I knew you were not going to let your accident get in the way of your goals. Everybody here at CMU can learn something from your inspirational story.

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