News Article Details

USU student with cerebral palsy earns degree

The Herald Journal - 5/6/2018

On Saturday afternoon outside the Dee Glen Smith Spectrum, Utah State University student Kristen Hone, who has cerebral palsy, sat strapped in her wheelchair as members of her family helped put on her cap and gown for commencement.

Not long after taking photographs with her mom, Karen, and her sister, Shawna, it was time for Hone to go to the west side of the venue to be part of the procession with the department of family, consumer and human development.

Hone looked happy as she was pushed by a USU accessibility consultant during the march into the Spectrum to be part of graduation from the Emma Eccles Jones College of Education and Human Services.

The occasion was a long-time coming for Hone, who took more than two decades to complete her degree in general studies.

“Ever since I was a little girl I have wanted to earn a college degree, since my parents earned their degrees,” Hone wrote in an email, which she composed from her wheelchair that has a computer attached to it. “My mom has always stressed that getting an education is really important.”

Cerebral palsy, often called CP, is mistaken by some as mental illness; it is not. It is neurological disorder caused by brain damage, typically before child birth, that causes life-long, non-life-threatening impairment in a person’s motor functions. The severity of the disorder, for those that have it, depends on the individual.

Hone’s CP is so severe her speech can barely be understood. She must be strapped to a wheelchair or she will fall out, and she needs help daily with many activities people take for granted.

Karen said her daughter has shown everyone that even people with severe disabilities can go on to college and earn a degree.

“Kristen has educated so many people that just because your arms are failing, your legs are bouncing, you’re drooling — your smart,” Karen said. “You’re not mentally incapable.”

“She is blessed”

Hone was born in December of 1974 in Ogden.

“I knew right in the hospital something was wrong with her,” Karen said.

She described Kristen a “very difficult baby.”

“Horrible,” Karen said. “She screamed all the time.”

She consulted a child development book and learned that Kristen likely had cerebral palsy.

“I was in a state … I was really upset,” Karen said.

She set up an appointment with a doctor, who told her Kristen was normal. After another doctor gave her a second option, her emotions got to her.

“I cried for a solid month,” Karen said. “I did not open the drapes in my house. I remember it being dark in my house and I cried.”

As Kirsten grew up, having cerebral palsy was something Kristen had trouble accepting.

According to her mother, when Kristen was in grade school, she would scream, “I want to die!”

One summer, Karen took her to camp in Salt Lake City, where she mellowed out.

“I dropped off this screaming child, went back and immediately I knew I had a different child,” Karen said. “I have no idea what happened — and she doesn’t, either — and from that point on, that girl has been extraordinarily positive.”

While other mothers she knew thought it was God’s fault for their child having a disability, Karen chose not to be resentful of Kristen’s situation.

“I have treated Kristen like I would have wanted someone to treat me if I were in the same situation,” Karen said. “I’ve done a lot of extra stuff advocating for her.”

Today, Karen feels like her daughter is more fortunate than others.

“We’ve seen people … who cannot see, who cannot talk, who cannot do one darn thing,” Karen said. “(Kristen) can think. She is blessed!”

”An opportunity”

Growing up in Brigham City, Hone was able to attend some schools in Cache Valley that were able to meet her needs, paid for by the Box Elder School District.

She attended preschool at USU’s Exceptional Child Center, which is now the Center for Persons with Disabilities.

“It was an opportunity, that’s how I looked at it,” Karen said. “When they were doing the intake to see if they were going to accept her, I told them, ‘She’s intellectually normal.’ They jumped on me … I said, ‘I’ve seen her, she’s a smart girl.”

Mary Cadez, coordinator of the educational services unit at the school, said Hone came to the Exceptional Child Center at a time when there weren’t a lot of services through school districts like there are today.

“So Box Elder was basically saying, ‘Boy, there’s this young child who needs physical therapy, speech therapy and a lot of one-on-one,’” Cadez said. “She was delightful and she was probably one of the most determined kids that we worked with.”

Then, Hone went to Adams Elementary in a regular K-12 classroom.

“She was the only one in a wheelchair,” Karen said. “The kids were so good with her.”

Hone eventually went back to her home school district, graduating from Box Elder High School. She moved out of her parent’s house when she was 21 to live a more independent life.

“I had people accuse me of dumping her out of the house,” Karen said. “She chose to live in Salt Lake so she could … go to college, get on with her life. Going to school was something good for her.”

Hone earned an associate’s degree from Salt Lake Community College, which took her 13 years to complete.

Then, after failing to get a waiver into Brigham Young University, Hone enrolled at USU. Studying at the Logan school took her almost ten years.

At one point, Kristen told her mom she thought she would not finish her USU degree because it required another class she felt was too difficult.

But Kristen switched majors and she graduated.

“She is amazing that she’s stuck with this,” Karen said.

In an interview, Beth Foley, dean of the Emma Eccles Jones College of Education and Human Services, praised Hone for graduating.

“I’m so impressed with her and her perseverance,” Foley said. “I think that exemplifies what we’re trying to do not only in this facility (the Clinical Excellence Building), but in our college, which is to provide opportunities for people with disabilities and not let disabilities define them.”

Hone feels good about her accomplishment — and hopes to send a message to everyone who wants a college education.

“I am very excited to graduate because it has been a lot of hard work over the past twenty-two years,” Hone wrote in an email. “If I can get my BS degree anybody can get their degree.”

Kristen Hone, a USU graduate with cerebral palsy, poses for a portrait outside the Dee Glen Smith Spectrum on Saturday before commencement ceremonies.

Kevin Opsahl/Herald Journal

Kristen Hone, a USU graduate with cerebral palsy, poses for a portrait outside the Dee Glen Smith Spectrum on Saturday before commencement ceremonies.

Kevin Opsahl/Herald Journal


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