Unable to speak and forced to use a wheelchair, cerebral palsy has made Gregory Nelson’s life difficult, but it hasn’t damaged his personality or will it prevent him from graduating with the rest of the Lakota East senior class on Sunday.
Cerebral palsy prohibits Nelson from using his muscles properly. As a result, he communicates and takes tests through a device connected to his motorized wheelchair. When he wants to answer, Nelson taps the left side of his face against a red button that then scrolls through different letters or saved responses that are then shared out loud through the computer’s audio system.
Using the device takes time, making writing assignments and exams for school tedious work. For example, when Nelson takes the ACT this summer it will take him four days to complete.
However, despite his limitations, the senior still excelled in the classroom and will finish high school with a 3.7 grade point average and a scholarship from the Lakota East PTSO.
“The kids all know that he has to do a lot to write or answer and they see just how determined he is,” said Linda Toriac, who has been Nelson’s instructional aide since the 6th grade. “It is exhausting to do some of the same things other students are doing, like big papers or exams. It takes him longer, but he never gives up.”
When asked what he thinks when he hears his story inspires others, Nelson is shocked and says through his device, “Wow, because I don’t think that I do anything remarkable.”
The Lakota East community disagrees.
“I am not sure I have had a student with more physical and communicative challenges than Gregory,” Lakota East special educator Jeff Combs wrote in a letter to the Lakota PTSO scholarship committee.
“When you first see or meet Gregory, it is impossible to miss the multitude of physical challenges that Gregory faces each minute of his life. But, after a very short period of time with him, it is impossible to not be infected by his positive attitude, many talents, intelligence and sense of humor.”
Lakota East staff members know that sense of humor well and openly teased Nelson as he wore his Lebron James Miami Heat jersey Tuesday. With every playful joke, Nelson smiled knowing that his favorite player and team had defeated the Boston Celtics Monday night in Game 1 of the NBA Eastern Conference Finals.
Nelson, who follows James and his other favorite athletes and sports teams on Twitter, wants to have a career in social media and sports.
Like he inspires others, sports inspire him. When asked what advice he would give a younger person with a similar disability, Nelson wrote through his device, “Like Jimmy V said, ‘Never give up.’”
Nelson never will and plans on taking college courses and hopes to find a part-time job next year.
“Gregory is well loved by his classmates and teachers,” Lakota East principal Keith Kline said. “Despite his struggles, he always works hard and has carried a smile on his face. He is an inspiration to us all and a great reminder that the human spirit is unstoppable.”
Prior to senior week in late May, Nelson and his fellow classmates were asked to get sponsors to pay for the upcoming Class of 2012 events. Each student was asked to raise $10; Nelson raised $155 and requested a donation from Kline and other faculty members.
“He basically told me that for each day I didn’t pay, it was going to be 5 percent interest and if I didn’t get to him, he was going to put a hurtin’ on me,” said Clinton Adkins, who taught American History to Nelson his sophomore year.
“He is quite the character.”
Nelson recruited faculty members to confront and collect from Adkins. Once approached, Adkins made sure he paid off his debt.
“With all the challenges he has, he is very inspirational because he always has a positive demeanor,” Adkins said. “I wish other kids, who complain about simple little things in their lives, could have the same outtake that Greg has. He is not just a phenomenal person to be around, but he is an inspiration to every student in his class.”
His classmates showed their admiration for Nelson during last week’s senior assembly where it was announced that Nelson had raised the most money and won a flat-screen television.
The entire senior class then stood up, faced him and cheered, “Nelson, Nelson, Nelson!”
Nelson and the Lakota East Class of 2012 will participate in commencement Sunday at 5 p.m. at Miami University’s Millett Hall.