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June 22, 2015
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Walking onto the stage Saturday at South College’s graduation meant as much to April Harvey as the degree she received on the other side.
Fifteen years ago Harvey could barely walk at all, a result of fluid on her brain.
“My doctors told me I was going to go blind,” Harvey said. “I was so overweight and knew I couldn’t go on like this.”
Inky Johnson, a former University of Tennessee football player, delivered a particularly fitting commencement speech about overcoming significant obstacles. A routine tackle in 2006 turned into a life-threatening injury for Johnson, who is now a motivational speaker and author.
He told students to never give up and never stop pushing towards their goals.
“This graduation is one milestone, and there are many more to accomplish,” Johnson said. “The only thing that can stop you in life is you.”
Johnson also encouraged students to live a selfless life. He shared his transformation from sleeping on the floor of a two-bedroom apartment with 14 family members in a suburb of Atlanta to graduating with a master’s degree. Johnson said he achieved his goals not only to change his life, but also to change the lives of family and friends in his hometown who were inspired by his accomplishments.
“Every decision and every choice in life shouldn’t be about you,” Johnson said. “There is tremendous joy in making other people happy.”
Harvey was one of 212 graduates eligible to receive their diplomas during the ceremony at the Tennessee Theatre in downtown Knoxville.
Harvey, who worked in banking, began paying closer attention to her diet and walking when she could. She also started going to physical therapy to address her chronic pain. By 2010, Harvey had lost 100 pounds.
“My back stopped hurting, and I was amazed with what I could do,” Harvey said. “I had started just walking a few minutes and would add minutes every day. Then, I started running between light poles.”
After taking a few exercise classes, Harvey knew it was time for a career change. She wanted to help other people the way she had helped herself. Harvey got licensed as a personal trainer and worked in a gym to help people get fit and lose weight.
“I realized that people who had been overweight for a while had terrible joint issues and other health problems that I wasn’t medically qualified to handle,” Harvey said.
She discovered the South College Physical Therapist Assistant program and knew the education would allow her to help everyone.
“The last two years at South College have been wonderful,” Harvey said. “I’ve learned so much about how to help other people and how to help myself.”
Several students were honored with Outstanding Student awards, including:
- Rebecca Porter for Criminal Justice
- Whitney Edwards for Legal Studies
- Byron Jowers for Paralegal Studies
- Georgia Varner and Crystal Rogers for Nursing
- Teavin Applewhite and Abigail Leeton for Physical Therapist Assistant
- Amber Joseph for Health Science
- Lester Phinney for Business (Graduate Level)
- Nicole Carrigan for Business (Undergraduate Level)
- Kaylee Reed for Imaging Sciences
Several faculty members also were honored. Anne Ippolito received the Distinguished Teaching Award for Outstanding Classroom Effectiveness, Professionalism and Dedication. Jodi Rightler-McDaniels received the Barbara Brimi Distinguished Service Award for Outstanding Institutional, Professional and Community Service.
About South College
South College is a private institution accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges(SACSCOC) to offer programs at the doctorate, masters, baccalaureate, and associate levels. To learn more about South College, visit http://www.southcollegetn.edu.