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Paralyzed Grad Leaves Harvard; School Also Honors Her 'Unselfish' Mom

USA TODAY June 09, 2000
By Nanci Hellmich

Brooke Ellison, paralyzed from the neck down from a spinal cord injury, graduated magna cum laude from Harvard on Thursday with a bachelor of arts degree in psychology and biology.

''I'm so overwhelmed,'' she said. ''I'm sad about leaving everyone, but it's a joyous time at the same time. It has been an incredible two days.'' Ellison gave one of the senior speeches on Wednesday.

Ellison's injury is similar to actor Christopher Reeve's. It happened when she was hit by a car at age 11. She depends on a ventilator to breathe and gets around in a motorized wheelchair that she operates with a device on the roof of her mouth.

Her mother, Jean Ellison, who lived in the dorm with her daughter and attended classes with her for four years, received a special award from Harvard commending her for her ''immense good cheer and unselfish love.''

Ellison knew her mother was getting the award but had kept mum about it, so Jean Ellison was caught by surprise.

''I was totally shocked,'' the mother said. ''I tell you I could barely stand. It was quite an honor.''

Both of Ellison's parents said they were proud of their daughter.

''It was incredibly beautiful,'' said Edward Ellison, who maintained the home front in Stony Brook, N.Y., with a younger son and older daughter while daughter Brooke and his wife were at Harvard -- a 5 1/2-hour drive away.

This summer, Brooke Ellison will return to Stony Brook, where she hopes to finish an autobiography she's been working on.

Next year, she plans to make inspirational speeches at university campuses on the East Coast. After that, it's on to graduate school -- probably somewhere close to home, though.


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