Much more than a piece of paper
By now the voice was familiar.
“You’re supposed to be working.”
“I am,” I replied as I looked up from a stack of Shorthorns that had backlogged during my vacation. Unlike our previous visits, this one was unannounced.
“I got it!”
By the excitement in his voice, I knew it was important. He was not easily moved. In the short time I’d known him, he had shown little emotion.
“What’s that?” I asked.
For John Shapter, the piece of paper he was clutching marked the end of a painful journey he thought he’d never complete. In May 2002, he was diagnosed with a terminal kidney disorder. He also suffers from debilitating pulmonary and bronchial diseases.
With his professors’ full support, he asked to receive his diploma early. He planned to attend the Dec. 13 commencement ceremony, but he couldn’t be sure. He has endured more than 50 weeklong hospital stays. One lasted two and a half weeks.
Frankly, he wasn’t certain he’d be alive. He felt fine on this afternoon in late October, but the attacks come without warning, often at inopportune times. He spent the last two Christmases in the hospital.
UTA administrators were empathetic.
“I remember thinking, ‘This is a good day. We did something good for somebody today,’ ” said Associate Vice President for Academic Affairs Michael Moore, who had the diploma prepared. “We have awarded degrees posthumously before, but that doesn’t do anything for students who did the work.”
John often did more work than was required, even though his illnesses forced him to take his last four classes from home. His professors described him as “extra enthusiastic,” “a pleasure to teach,” “the kind of student you want.”
“It’s really amazing,” said Brent Anderson, one of John’s graphic design teachers. “He had to figure out a way to take classes he couldn’t sit in. There are so many students who just don’t want to work that hard. For him to graduate is a real tribute.”
John was so proud—and protective—of his diploma that it was framed and hanging on the wall outside his bedroom the day after he received it. I saw it there the day of his graduation. He allowed photographer Robert Crosby and me to document the experience for UTA Magazine.
He had made it to Dec. 13. I was honored to be sharing this long-awaited triumph.
And always happy to hear that familiar voice.
— Mark Permenter