NEWBURGH – For Hanna Sheppard of Brookhaven, N.Y. who suffered a debilitating spinal injury nearly a decade ago, striding across the stage at Mount Saint Mary College’s 53rd annual Commencement was as big an achievement as earning her degree.
About a year before attending the Mount, she relied on a wheelchair. When she began taking classes at the college in 2012, Shephard used a pair of crutches. On Saturday, May 21, she walked across the commencement stage unaided.
In 2008 Sheppard dove into her pool from the middle, expecting to coast along the slanted floor to the deep end. Instead she hit the concrete head-on and cracked her C5 vertebra in half. Sheppard’s younger brother rescued her and she was airlifted to the hospital.
Her right hand and much of her right leg remain paralyzed, but that didn’t stop the former Sophomore Class President from attaining her goals – both physically and academically.
Sheppard says that learning to walk without crutches was a “conscious decision” during her time at the Mount.
“Eventually I moved from two crutches to one crutch, to a cane, to nothing,” she explained. “It was physical, but it was also about confidence. I said, ‘You know what? I need to do this.’ And so it happened.”
Her time at the Mount, she said, has “prepared me for the real world.” Sheppard hopes to earn a master’s of business administration in the future, having discovered a love of the field through her Mount courses.