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Sharon Morris speech at graduation

Sharon Morris receives award from Dr. SmootStudent Sharon Morris delivered the student address during the graduation ceremony on May 11, 2013, in the morning. Here is her message:

I am deeply touched and honored to be asked to participate in the commencement ceremony today. First, I would like to thank God who gave me direction and guidance, for my daughter, son-in-law, granddaughter, my baby sister, my two nieces, who gave me their love and support, for my friends who made this journey with me, for the college, Dr. Greiner, the staff, the instructors, and my fellow Ambassadors, all of whom have made a profound impact on my life.

Last but not least, I would like to thank Director, Mr. Dean Osborne who welcomed me into the Hazard Community amp; Technical Kentucky School of Bluegrass and Traditional Music with such warmth and compassion that I could not help but succeed. He went above and beyond his call of duty.

Today, I speak in a single voice, but I feel I can speak for many. All who walk this education road, walk with a hope of a better life, and most find it. Speaking to other students, some are here because of layoffs due to the down turn of the job market, some are veterans, others single parents who are striving to give their families a better life. Some are young, middle aged and old, with no respect to gender, color, political views or religion, some with disabilities, such as I.

In 2003, I was diagnosed with Parkinson, it was a fearful and terrible feeling. Everything I had known in my life changed that day. Leading up to the diagnosis, I could see my stumbling, falls, and tremors getting worse almost daily. Simple tasks, such as picking up a coin turned into a major feat that would often leave me in tears. The Parkinson Disease Foundations states that, As many as one million Americans live with Parkinson's disease, which is more than the combined number of people diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, muscular dystrophy and Lou Gehrig's disease. So at age 53 I received my diagnosis. The neurologist told me that it is estimated that in ten years a patient is expected to be housebound, putting the ten year benchmark for me at 2013.

I spent many hours on the computer researching Parkinson. My daughter and sister, both Nurse Practitioners, supplied me with much medical arsenal. Two things seemed to be in so many articles, medication of course, but also music and exercise. I began with water aerobics every day, and as I grew stronger I began to swim. I added stretch bands to my routine, then walking.

\Finally seven years of medications and exercise paid off and now the next step was to add music to my routine. So in the fall of 2010, I walked through the doors of the HCTC Kentucky School of Bluegrass and Traditional Music. Director Dean Osborne, whom I had never met face to face, was standing in the hallway greeting students and seemed to know me without asking my name. So my journey began, I did not dare hope for much because I had suffered so many disappointments, but I told myself it would not hurt to try, that if I had a 10% improvement that I would be happy.

It had been many years since I had been in a classroom, and it felt wondrously exciting. As we introduced ourselves to each class, I said the same line, I have Parkinson and I am here as part of my therapy. I did not let my mind dwell on my age, or my disability, but decided I would do my best.

Within two months I seemed to feel better and but I dared not hope for much else. Some days were harder than others, and often I felt overwhelmed, but at the same time the music seemed to have a calming effect on me.

In my second semester I had improved to the point I was able to play my guitar in the jam sessions and that is when I began to flourish. I could not wait for the weekends to be over and Monday to come so I could catch the elevator to the second floor and into room 310 where the jam sessions often took place.

My third semester I had improved enough to become a part of ensemble. I had also begun to write songs under the direction of Instructor Curtis Burch. Presently, I have written more than 50 copyrighted songs, with many more in the making. Having lost most of my ability to sing and play, it was terrifying to be back upon stage again, but under the direction of Chris Mullins and JP Mathes, they encouraged me to step out a little at a time. I knew by that time that I would be pursuing my degree. Each semester made me stronger, more encouraged that my Parkinson was definitely improving, to the point that I now took the stairs instead of the elevator. I could carry a mandolin in one hand, a guitar in the other and my book bag on my back. There was always someone willing to give me a helping hand if necessary.

My individual instrument lessons was somewhat a challenge due to the lack of strength in my hands and arms, many nights I practiced long hours to the point of exhaustion, but I was determined I was going to succeed. Instructor Bobby Osborne gave me so many shortcuts and tips, along with his pleasant demeanor and encouragement, I overcame my fear of my instruments and began to have faith in myself.
I could not have done this without the support of each and every person who has entered my life, I have made wonderful and lasting friendships and I am grateful to each one. So many people told me, You can do this!

So today as I stand before you, one thing stands out in my mind, as the neurologist told me I would probably be housebound by 2013, that always seemed such a cloud I lived under, today I did not know my cloud had a silver lining, I am proud to say I am not housebound but graduating college.

My baby sister gave me a butterfly necklace for Christmas of 2010 at the end of my first semester. I would like to end my speech by sharing the inscription with you, It says, Just when the caterpillar thought the world was over, she turned into a butterfly.

I m sharing my story in hopes that everyone will be encouraged that no matter what your circumstance, you can overcome. Hazard Community and Technical College is here to assist you in your journey and help you make your dreams come true.
Thank you and God bless!