Tag Archives: Office of Disability Services

Motivational speaker ignites triumph over adversity for TSU students

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (TSU News Service) – Cassandra Brown covers herself with a ‘coat of gratitude’ every morning after surviving a shooting incident in 2021. As a result, the Memphis native was left partially paralyzed. The life-altering tragedy took place just a week before Brown was to return for her junior year at Tennessee State University. Despite the challenges, she returned to study agricultural business this past fall with guidance from TSU’s Office of Disability Services (ODS).

Fast forward to a recent campus event that Brown says was a pivotal moment in her journey. The event was sponsored by ODS and featured motivational speaker Timothy Alexander.

TSU student Cassandra Brown, left, and motivational speaker Timothy Alexander, takes a photo together shortly after Alexanders speech at TSU.

“Where you come from doesn’t predict the person you will become,” Brown said with high emotions. “And after hearing speech his, I knew I wasn’t alone.”

Alexander and the TSU student share a similar story. Alexander had hopes of a career in the NFL, until a car accident that initially left him paralyzed from the neck down at 17 years old. But he didn’t give up on himself. He emerged as a beacon of hope, becoming an inspirational speaker and author. He dedicated his life to inspiring others with his story of resilience and triumph over adversity.

“From adversity to achievement,” Alexander, a Birmingham Alabama native, shared his heartwarming story.  Once ranked the #8 best high school football player in Alabama, he defied the odds.

“My education, my experience, my research put me in roles that I never thought I would be in,” Alexander said.

Timothy Alexander, right, interacts with students after telling an inspiring story about his journey that led him to becoming a motivational speaker.

“You don’t need it to be easy. You just need it to be possible,” he told the crowd.

Alexander graduated from Wallace State Community College and went on to receive a master’s degree from the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB). In 2017, he stood up and walked independently at UAB for the first time since his paralysis in 2006.

“I was the first paraplegia in D1 history to ever receive a full ride for football and I never touched the field. I never made a play.”

The car wreck also caused a traumatic brain injury that demanded a journey of relearning how to walk and think.

“Never forget where you come from but be reminded of how far you’re going.”

Dozens of athletes in attendance resonated with Alexander’s story. Louise Ratiu, a TSU tennis player from Liege, Belgium, said she appreciated the underlying message of Alexander’s speech.

TSU Tennis players Louise Ratiu, left, and Sydni Lollar express gratitude for Alexander’s inspiring story and resilient mindset, regardless of any setbacks.

“I really liked the way he underlined that no matter how hard life gets, anything is possible if you are willing to do what is necessary to get there,” Ratiu said. “And I think it’s something really important mostly as athletes to keep fighting no matter how hard it gets.”

Dr. Anita McGaha, the director of the Office of Disability Services (ODS) said the office was proud to collaborate with the Academic Career Pathways and Partnerships office, directed by Dr. Antoinette Duke, to bring Alexander’s motivational narrative to TSU.

“His motivational narrative struck a chord with both our students and our staff on a profound level,” McGaha said.

“There are no limits to what a person can accomplish. Alexander reminded everyone in attendance that, ‘it’s not what you go through but what you grow through.'”

Dr. Anita McGaha, left, Timothy Alexander, center, and Dr. Antoinette Duke.

Alexander’s message served as a universal lesson for all TSU students, regardless of their abilities.

“It’s you, that can make a difference,” he said.

“If you want to measure what life is going to bring you, you’ve got to measure it by what you gave. Good measure.”

During his speech Alexander expressed his appreciation for his first visit to TSU and the university’s motto, “Think Work Serve,” and how it resonates with his journey. As he concluded, he was extended an invitation to apply for a doctoral program by interim provost and vice president for Academic Affairs, Dr. Robbie Melton.

44-year-old blind TSU student defies the odds, graduates with economics degree

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (TSU News Service) – Julian Walker lost his vision due to a Nashville car accident in 2012. Walker had to adapt quickly to the drastic changes in his life, from learning braille and using specialized software to relearning simple tasks. Despite being completely blind, the father of four never lost sight of his goals.

On Saturday 44-year-old Julian Walker graduated from Tennessee State University with a bachelor’s degree in economics, as the only blind student in the spring 2023 graduating class. “I am proud of myself,” said the Nashville native.

Julian Walker at graduation rehearsal in Gentry Center the day before he walked the stage, receiving his degree in economics.

“This isn’t entirely about me walking across the stage. A lot of this is for my children, so they can see that you can get a degree and finish school even if you are blind. I am just trying to give them motivation for their journey through college,” he said.

Walker has three sons and a daughter ages 12-16. “This is about my family.”

Walker began his college journey at Emory University right after high school but didn’t finish. In 2019, he received his associate’s degree from Nashville State Community College. “I need to complete what I started back then,” he said, referring to receiving his bachelor’s. “I wanted to see if I could go to school as a blind person.”

Walker is one of nearly 150 disabled students who are served on campus. He noted that TSU’s office of disability services always accommodated him, no matter the class. “Anytime I needed help, the office was right on top of it,” he said. “Even if it was moving around the buildings, they made sure if I needed assistance, they would walk around with me.”

The nontraditional student also mentioned that walking across the stage served as a reminder that people with disabilities are capable of earning their degree. “That’s where the fuel comes from every day,” he said. “We need to see more disabled people who are aware of these resources at TSU. They can do it too.”

In 2012, Walker underwent seven surgeries in an attempt to save his vision. In 2021, he fell and injured himself, causing two minor strokes. After recovering, he got back on track to reach his educational milestone. Dr. Anita McGaha, Director of the Office of Disability Services (ODS), said she is proud of Walker for not giving up on himself.

McGaha said that not only does Walker represent TSU as a graduate, but he represents other students with impairments as well. “There is learner variability,” McGaha said. “Just because you learn differently doesn’t mean you cannot succeed. Students cannot allow their disabilities to dictate their success.”

The ODS provides academic accommodations for students with documented disabilities such as mood disorders, cognitive disorders, and physical impairments. Gregory Morrissette, the office’s learning disability coordinator, meet with the students and discusses how their disability impacts their academic setting. Walker said that the accommodation has made his time at TSU seamless. “The TSU experience has been great,” he said, noting how closing out this chapter with a commencement speech from TSU alumna Oprah Winfrey was remarkable.

Walker’s journey is a prime example of perseverance and determination. Now, with a college degree under his belt, Walker looks forward to utilizing his degree for his local family business, Germantown Pub, or working for a disability services office in Nashville.

For more information about TSU’s Office of Disability Services, visit www.tnstate.edu/disabilityservices/.