At age 28, Deric T. Placker had a good job that supported his family. At age 29, he had a stroke. That life-altering medical event eventually led him to finish his bachelor’s degree at Brandman in 2016 and now his Master of Arts in Psychology with a combined emphasis on marriage and family therapy and professional clinical counseling. Despite the many challenges, Placker “kept forward momentum with dedication toward his education and eyes on a future career when others would have given up,” said Jane Uhazy, assistant director of Advising and Retention, Antelope Valley campus, who nominated him as a 2018 commencement speaker.
Here's what he told his fellow graduates:
If someone told me 10 years ago I would be standing up here about to collect a graduate degree, I would most likely had laughed at them and called them crazy. However, life has a funny way of shaking itself up. In 2009, my life did just that, and life as I knew it changed forever. During this time, I had a very lucrative job working as a miner. I made enough money to support my family and give them just about anything they wanted. Unfortunately, I was working 90-hour weeks to do so. Although I was 29 years old and in great shape, this schedule took its toll on me. One summer night, I had a major stroke in one of the most sensitive parts of the brain.
After arriving at a medical center, I learned that my prognosis was grim to say the least. One of the world's most renowned neurosurgeon told me that I had a 25 percent chance of survival if I were to undergo brain surgery and likely death if I were to deny it. When I asked the surgeon what side effects I would have after surgery, he told me that I would likely be blind in one eye and would never walk again. My only question at this time was, “Will I still be able to hold my daughter?” To which the doctor replied, "Yes, you could hold your daughter with the right side.” Knowing this I went through with the surgery.
After the brain surgery was complete, I woke up with perfect vision but found myself in a wheelchair. My days working as a miner were over. Everyone at the mine sent their best wishes and congratulated me for reaching retirement before I hit the age of 30. Although the idea of not working sounded good for about a week or two, I soon realize it wasn't all that it was cut out to be. After about three weeks of watching reruns of bubble guppies over and over and over again with my 3-year-old daughter, I realize that I needed to do something to get back on the saddle and take charge of my life.
My first goal was to learn to walk again. I got up and fell down many times but I kept getting up and going forward, each time forcing myself to take one more step. I couldn't let my daughter see me give up or see me run from a challenge, even if it seemed unachievable. Within six months of standing and falling over and over and over again, my few steps led to many steps and many more. Today I'm proud to say I can walk miles without any assistance or help from others.
After learning to walk again, I decided: Why listen to others and just give up and retire? My body was broken, but my mind was fresh, and I still could give back to society. What got in my way at this time was my own fears. I was a 30-something-year-old man with a family and a horrible education track record. My philosophy in high school was “D’s get degrees.” The idea of going to college as an older adult with young kids did not sound appealing to me. This is where I found Brandman.
Brandman provided a curriculum which worked around my schedule and worked with me as an older adult. The staff members at Brandman helped me through every step. Every time I was sick, hospitalized, or just knocked down for a moment, I could always count on a member of Brandman staff to help me reach my goals. I can honestly say if it wasn't for my academic advisors, amazing teachers, four daughters and my wife, I would not be standing here today.
So, you might ask yourself how does this story relate to you? Well, I wouldn't call it a story of triumph, but a story about taking the first step. Every last one of us who is graduating today has their own story and their own reason for taking the first step, which has led them here today. The question is what other first steps can we take and how can these steps help us lead the future?
I know the world has its place for each of you, and you will inspire and lead the world as you write your own story and take many first steps. Congratulations, Brandman Class of 2018.
7 p.m. Southern Commencement
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