Marc AndrewsLaGrange, NY
Academic SchoolLiberal Arts
Nothing encapsulates the transition into adulthood like the traditional college experience. Earning a degree requires hard work, discipline, and independence, and many graduating seniors overcome significant adversity to earn their degrees. Now imagine navigating the rigors of campus life in a wheelchair, and you’ll begin to have a sense of the sheer tenacity of Marc Andrews ’18.
Andrews, a philosophy major from LaGrange, New York, has an inherited disorder called spinal muscular atrophy, which leaves him unable to walk or use his legs; he has limited use of his arms. Confined to a wheelchair since the age of two, he is dependent on aides (provided by New York State) for personal care, transitioning from bed to wheelchair and back, carrying books, opening doors, and many other tasks that most people take for granted. Still, these challenges have not prevented him from serving as editor-in-chief of the Marist Undergraduate Philosophy Journal, presenting his award-winning paper at a conference, and taking advantage of all the intellectual and social opportunities Marist has to offer. Andrews is a particular fan of philosophy lectures, and he makes it a point to see high-profile speakers such as Cornel West and Sebastian Junger. For fun, he does “normal lazy college kid stuff like playing video games and watching movies.” He notes, “There’s a lot of opportunity here; you just have to find your passion.”
Andrews knew that he could handle being away from home when he completed Marist’s pre-college summer program in game design and got his first taste of independence. Still, he was terrified the night before starting his freshman year. And the transition was indeed difficult, between adjusting to campus life, managing a revolving roster of personal care aides, and struggling in his original major of biology. A low point came a couple of months into the fall semester when a fire alarm went off in the middle of the night in Marian Hall. Andrews’ aide was nowhere to be found, so he had to call his father to come get him. Later, he realized that the aide had stolen his wallet and disappeared. Discouraged, by the end of freshman year, he had decided not to return in the fall, but his parents made him promise to give it just one more semester. “The more I thought about it, I didn’t want to let these frustrations prevent me from getting a college degree.” Andrews continues, “I view life as an exercise in resiliency, and I’m as stubborn as an ox.” He returned to Marist for his sophomore year and never looked back.
Director of Health Services Dr. Melissa Schiskie has known Andrews and his family for years because, before coming to Marist, she was his primary care physician. “Marc is such an inspiring young man, and he has such determination. It’s been so rewarding to see him flourish in a college environment. I love hearing his stories about how he went to a party, how he had to go across campus in the pouring rain, and so on. He always jokes that he’s going to write a book about his experiences, and I hope he does!”
Things haven’t been perfect, but Andrews isn’t one to complain. He doesn’t dwell on the social barriers he still encounters or the times that he can’t go to someone’s house because it’s not accessible. Instead, he gives credit to the many people in the Marist community who have supported him and made his education possible, including Associate Director of Housing Patti Houmiel; faculty like Associate Professors of Philosophy James Snyder and Andrei Buckareff and Assistant Professors of Philosophy Georganna Ulary and Joseph Campisi; the Physical Plant team who installed an accessible shower in his dorm room. Said Andrews, “Honestly, everyone has been great. I’m especially grateful to my professors, who respect my work and really see me for who I am.”
The respect is clearly mutual. According to Dr. Snyder, “Marc has been one of our top majors since he joined the philosophy program. He pays particular attention to the human condition. He wrote his capping paper on existentialism and the myth of Sisyphus, and it was one of the most illuminating I have read; for me, he clarified and provided insight into the lives of those with disabilities.” Adds Dr. Buckareff, who is currently co-authoring a paper with Andrews, “Marc exhibits the best qualities of a motivated and intellectually curious student. He excels at discerning connections between what often appear, at first glance, to be unrelated problems and exhibits considerable skill in developing reasonable solutions.” Houmiel, who has worked closely with Andrews to secure on-campus housing that meets his needs, points to his “great smile, great attitude, and great t-shirts, which all have a cool backstory.” For his senior year, he’s living in the new North Campus Housing Complex on an upper floor with views of the Hudson River. Says Houmiel, “Marc could have chosen a room on the ground floor – it would have been easier for him – but he told me he would find a way to make it work even if the elevator broke down or the fire alarm sounded. And he has.”
So what’s next for Marc Andrews? He is looking forward to graduation this May with a sense of pride and satisfaction that he made the most of his college experience. However, he’s not in a hurry to decide his next move. A job or graduate school would likely involve relocating (and all the challenges that would present), so he’s taking some time to think things through. As someone who “doesn’t like quitting or getting beat,” Andrews will undoubtedly make the right decision.