There will only be one name on the degree, but there is no question that the graduation celebrated by Phillip McClain and Susan Straight at John E. Tucker Coliseum on Saturday was a team effort.
McClain, 47 of Russellville (photographed, left), earned his Bachelor of Arts degree in rehabilitation science from Arkansas Tech University. He was among 200 graduates recognized during the 2012 summer commencement ceremony at Tech.
There by his side, just as she has been throughout their journey to graduation together, was Straight (photographed, right). She is McClain’s direct support provider from Friendship Community Services.
Straight pushed McClain’s wheelchair around the outside corridor of Tucker Coliseum, onto the floor of the arena and sat just to his left as the names of the other graduates were read.
Then, when it was McClain’s turn to approach the podium, they accepted the round of applause they earned.
“We’ve been coming to campus together for more than six years,” said Straight. “We’ve checked over a lot of homework together and listened to recordings of a lot of lectures to reach this point. Classes are often only 10 minutes apart, so we have raced through the halls of these buildings many times. It’s a good feeling because we knew he could do it.”
And when Straight references, “we,” she is not only talking about the two of them.
Her husband, Daniel, has also been an important part of McClain’s path to college graduation.
“They have been more than a family to me,” said McClain when asked about the Straights.
McClain said that another member of the Friendship staff --- Cristy Keele --- motivated him to study rehabilitation science.
“She was an inspiration to me,” said McClain of Keele. “Anything she or her husband could do to help me, they did it. She led me down the right path. She has helped a lot of people, and I wanted to be like her.”
Among the other supporters that McClain mentioned were his professors at Arkansas Tech and the staff members in the Arkansas Tech Office of Testing and Disability Services.
“They bent over backwards for me,” said McClain. “They made me comfortable.”
Now that he has completed his degree, McClain intends to return to work at Star Industries in Russellville. Then he will begin his job search in an effort to give back to the field of rehabilitation science.
“I’ll go back to where I started at Star Industries and let the guys there congratulate me for a few weeks,” said McClain. “Then I want to find a job that will allow me to do what I do best --- help people.”