If you have been to PediaPlex before you probably know our story and you probably know Megan! But, for those who don’t, here is the quick rundown. Megan is the main reason why PediaPlex started. At the age of eight Megan was diagnosed with autism and has since received therapies such as speech and occupational therapy. She attended the Hill School in Fort Worth, Texas and then went to Parker University to pursue her degree as a Certified Occupational Therapy Assistant (COTA). Yes, you guessed it… She graduated this August!! We are so excited to share her story about college and graduation.
My College Life and Journey by Megan Kirkpatrick
Walking across stage at my college graduation, as simple as it may seem has been one of the scariest things I have ever had to do. It was not just the walking that terrified me, but it was my shoes, the cap, and the gown. Try walking up stairs, wooden ones I might add, and across a recently cleaned wooden stage in shoes that were meant to be worn by someone who is used to wearing heels and not sneakers or flats. Then came the gown, which was loose fitting and every time I took a step, I could feel the gown brush lightly against my knees and arms. Then finally came the cap which completed my graduation attire. I was nervous about one thing with the cap, which was whether the texture of the fabric would irritate the back of my neck like an itchy tag on the back of a shirt would have. The cap sat nicely on my head and I don’t recall ever feeling any discomfort the entire time I was wearing my cap. Although, the cap was comfortable, the tassel dangling in front of my face was not as appealing. I did not know whether the tassel was going swing out to the side as I walked or if it was going to swing out and come back and hit me in the eye.
Then it finally came down to actually walking across the stage in heels that were unfamiliar and not one hundred percent comfortable. It took nearly all of my self-control to not peer down to the floor to ensure that I did not trip or much less fall while participating in the graduation ceremony. I was able to walk across the stage with confidence as all of the memories of my struggles, all the times I wanted to give up, and all of the times I was so sure that there was no way that I would be able to graduate or more importantly walk across that stage. When I walked across that stage, I remembered all of the times I felt hopeless and like there was no point in continuing my path to become a COTA. Many times I wanted to just drop everything and say, “I’m done.” All of those depressing feelings came rushing back as I remembered feeling so hopeless with zero belief that I could actually finish college like every other “normal” person could. But when I received my diploma and walked across that stage, all of those emotions disappeared because I felt like I had accomplished everything that so many people had told me that I would not be able to do. I realized in the past two years that college is tough, but it is not impossible. Graduating from college is possible, but it is not easy.
I remember a year ago I thought I was going to have to leave the OTA program because I had been struggling with depression since earlier on in the spring semester. I thought it was over for me because my initial thought “that nobody cares if you’re depressed, that’s on you and it’s your job to “fix it.” That didn’t turn out to be the case when I confided in my mother and the director of my program that I felt hopeless and that if I could not fix my mental health myself then what was the point of me even trying. When I was dealing with my depression I felt alone like no one understood what I was going through and that it was my fault that I could not fix it. When I did confide in my mom and program director, they did the opposite of what I expected them to do. They did not abandon me, and they supported me and never left me to face it alone. I honestly feel like that is what saved me. Support can do so much for someone with mental health problems and it can change their mindset from the negative thoughts of “What’s the point in even trying,” and changing them to a more positive note of thinking “It’s going to be tough, but I can do this because I have got people who believe in me and who know that I can do this.”
My support system was not the only thing that kept me going and helped me through the hard time during my two years in college. I had to create and utilize daily planners so I knew what assignments were due and how to break them up so that I was not completing the whole assignment in one sitting. I also had to utilize a checklist so that I knew what steps I had to take to complete an assignment correctly or study the right material for an exam. Both of these strategies required organization and it was not just for school. Staying organized in my own home affected my school life because if I was not organized at home then my school life was like a puzzle. The less organized I was the more difficult it was for me to see the whole picture of what I needed to do and instead all I saw was a pile of pieces waiting to be put into their correct spots. Organization has saved me in so many ways and I still utilize these strategies outside of my work and school life because it has helped me succeed academically and functionally in life.
College is time consuming and depending on the degree you are trying to obtain, it can take from two years to eight years of school. Luckily my degree was supposed to be a short 16 months. However, after struggling with depression during my time in school, I unfortunately had to take a break because I was becoming so overwhelmed with the schoolwork, the self-doubt, and the disappointment in myself. My 16 month degree turned into a two and a half year degree. I was definitely worried about fitting in with this new class since they had been together for a while and I was the black sheep of the group. They were not like my old class but they welcomed me into their class nonetheless. I remember feeling out of place because everyone in my new class was so outgoing and ambitious. I was intimidated and it was a little scary for me to be surrounded by 17 new people that I was going to be spending the rest of my college career with. It was difficult for me to accept that I would not graduate with my previous classmates and that I was the only one in that class to take a few months longer to graduate the program because of some mental health struggles. Then as I progressed throughout the program I realized that I was being given the opportunity to learn more than I had the first time around. I learned more because I was around new people and they all had different ways of thinking. This opportunity reminded me that just because something takes you longer to complete, it does not make you a failure, but it gives you the opportunity to correct your mistakes and learn from them. It is okay if something takes longer because it gives you a second chance to learn and to correct the mistakes you made in the past.
If you have a child going through college then please remember that you cannot expect them to be able to do this on their own because it will tax them physically, emotionally, and mentally. Being supportive and just saying “I know you can do this,” or “I believe in you,” is probably one of the best things you can do to keep your child motivated to achieve their dream. Without the support of my mom I would not have been able to achieve mine. I have one more thing that is crucial to know for anyone who is preparing for college graduation. Make sure that the shoes your graduate is walking in are a type of shoe that is familiar to them and easy to walk in. The last thing that should be on their mind is whether or not they are going to fall before they reach the other side of the stage. The mental note you should be making is no high heels and no scuba flippers. Parents, the journey of how your child got here is the most important so just make a mental note of letting this be the easiest part of their life after all the hardships they have already faced.
-The PediaPlex Family