NEW ALBANY, IN (May 13, 2011) – The walk down the hill to the Indiana University Southeast amphitheater is a highlight for graduates on Commencement Day.
For Leann McClain, it was a triumph of will.
McClain, a senior from Borden, Ind., who graduated with her B.A. in English and literature, was born with a mild form of cerebral palsy. The nerves in her legs and arms were damaged, making it difficult for her to walk. She has spent time in wheelchairs, with walkers, and with crutches. On Commencement Day, she walked with braces on her legs.
But the important part, she says, is that she walked.
“I said I was going to walk and I did. You can call me stubborn, but I was going to do it,” she said. “That’s my thing, I want to be like everybody else.”
Being a part of the Class of 2011 was the culmination of more than five years of hard work. McClain began at IU Southeast in the fall of 2005. She had taken a tour of the campus while in middle school and knew that it was where she wanted to be when it was time for college.
When she arrived, she quickly formed bonds with her fellow students and her professors. She joined Phi Sigma Sigma sorority and found a group of friends in the English department. Her professors were willing to go above and beyond to help her earn her degree.
“Another thing about my professors at IU Southeast is if you prove you’re a determined student, they will help you out with anything you need,” she said.
It was her professors and her friends who helped her make it to Commencement. She had some difficult classes, she explained, but every time she failed she got right back up and did it again.
On May 9, McClain joined 1,150 other grads to become the largest graduating class in IU Southeast history. Her friends were right by her side – literally. Two classmates stood on either side of McClain helping her walk down the hill to the ceremony.
On May 18, McClain will undergo triple arthrodesis surgery. The surgery will help stabilize her feet and keep them from breaking down, she explains. It’s a significant procedure, and one that will likely have a long period of recovery.
Still, McClain’s time at IU Southeast isn’t over yet. She was recently accepted into the Master’s of Liberal Studies program with a concentration in women and gender studies, and she will begin taking classes in the fall. Professors in the M.L.S. program are working with her to see if online courses are a possibility if she is still recovering from her surgery.
The willingness to help and to ensure she continues her education is what attracts her to IU Southeast.
“It’s been hard,” she said. “But I like to do anything academic. School keeps me going.”