Among my most cherished college memories is the day I graduated

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by Jasmine Ramos |

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Memories wield immense power in the recesses of the mind. They can evoke varying emotions, from exhilaration and delight to sorrow and profound grief.

Countless memories regularly swirl through my consciousness. Yet, as I pondered ideas for this column, one memory persisted: my recent graduation from Harrisburg Area Community College in Pennsylvania. That memory instantly hijacked my thoughts, eclipsing all of the other recollections I could’ve written about.

Thus, I am currently reclined in bed, typing reflections from that pivotal day on Dec. 14, 2023, when I crossed the stage to receive my community college diploma. It is a memorable milestone.

As a first-generation college student navigating the challenges of SMA, this achievement symbolizes triumph over adversity. Unknowingly, I had forged a path for myself, my siblings and nieces, and others with disabilities. I had laid the groundwork for their aspirations to soar just as health policy professor Brooke Ellison and the late Judy Heumann, who was known as “the mother of the disability rights movement,” had done for me.

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A proud occasion

Two sisters pose together for a photo in the center of an indoor arena. The woman on the left is wearing graduation attire and is seated in her power wheelchair. The woman on the right is wearing a gold-colored cardigan over a black top. Her left hand is resting on her sister's arm, and her right hand is resting on the back of the wheelchair.

From left, Jasmine Ramos and her sister Jessica are ready for the big day when Jasmine graduated from community college in December. (Courtesy of Jasmine Ramos)

The days leading up to the momentous occasion were filled with unforgettable moments. As the fall semester ended, I immersed myself in the final stages of my internship, each passing day tinged with anticipation and nostalgia. While the prospect of graduating filled me with excitement, it also prompted farewells to cherished connections I had forged along the way. Moreover, it marked the beginning of a new chapter in my life as I prepared to transition to a different university to continue my studies.

When the long-awaited day finally arrived, I constantly looked at the clock, eagerly counting the hours until it was time to get ready and make my way to the arena in Hershey, Pennsylvania, 45 minutes from my home. The moment was immensely significant for me and everyone in my life. My father traveled on Amtrak from New York City to attend the ceremony, and my mother arranged a rental van to get me to the venue. My sister-in-law took time off work to attend, and my internship supervisor arranged for child care so that she could watch me receive my degree and offer her congratulations.

When the time came to get ready for the ceremony, emotions washed over me. My sister, who is my unwavering supporter, stood by my side and adorned me with my dress, gown, and other regalia. In that poignant moment, reality hit me like a tidal wave: I was really graduating with honors from a community college. As my sister delicately draped my honor society sash over me, her tears began to flow.

“Jasmine, I’m incredibly proud of you. Thank you for blazing the trail for me,” she whispered, her voice choked with emotion. My composure faltered, but fortunately, it happened before any makeup had been applied. This shared moment with my sister remains deeply etched in my memory, and it never fails to prompt tears when I think about it.

A woman is a dark red graduation cap and gown shows off her diploma. She's seated in a power wheelchair and smiling happily at the camera.

Jasmine Ramos proudly shows off her diploma. (Courtesy of Jasmine Ramos)

As I entered the arena that day, I received warm greetings and congratulations from several faculty members who had been integral to my educational journey. Many of them had accompanied me from the earliest stages of the college process, witnessing firsthand my evolution from a person who once sought solace in the office of a disability services coordinator to the determined individual I had become, a force to be reckoned with.

I was awestruck as I rolled into the arena and joined 400 students who would be graduating that evening. When the ceremony commenced and my peers began to line up for their moment on stage, my heart raced with anticipation. I felt a genuine thrill for each student as they reached the stage. Exchanging congratulations with classmates further amplified the sense of camaraderie and accomplishment that permeated the air.

As the alphabetical procession moved forward, my anticipation grew, until it was finally my turn. My sister quietly approached me and unlocked the brakes of my wheelchair with a mixture of excitement and nerves.

Despite my eagerness to be there, emotions overwhelmed me. When I heard my name called, tears began flowing uncontrollably down my face. The school president gently placed the diploma on my lap. Switching my tassel sealed the moment, signifying my official status as a community college graduate.

Reflecting on this milestone, I’m struck by the profound impact that memories have on me, guiding life’s journey. My graduation is a testament to perseverance and an ability to overcome challenges, with the unwavering support of my family and the school faculty. The shifting of my tassel marked a personal achievement that helps pave the way for future generations. With gratitude and determination, I embrace the next chapter of my life, ready to navigate the challenges with resilience.

Note: SMA News Today is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of SMA News Today or its parent company, BioNews, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to spinal muscular atrophy.

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