Some remarkable twists on the path to graduation


Members of the class of ‘98 showed resilience and persistence as they worked toward that sheepskin. A little serendipity did not hurt, either. Take, for example, these stories:
p. University of Notre Dame
Tim Cordes, a biochemistry major from Eldridge, Iowa,graduated with a 3.99 grade point average to become valedictorian of his class. He was admitted to the medical school program at the University of Wisconsin at Madison. He recently earned black belts in tae kwon do and jujitsu.p. And Cordes is blind.p. “People always say, ’Are you sure you want to do this?”’ said Cordes, who hopes to do research after receiving his graduate degrees. “It can get tiring some times, but I’m used to it.”p. Cordes conducted his laboratory work by relying on devices like automatic syringes and pipettes, and chemical flasks labeled in Braille. He occasionally had a lab assistant to help him gauge color changes in titration, as well as to do other tasks.p. Cordes is believed to be the second blind person accepted at an American medical school; the first, Dr. David Hartman, is now a psychiatrist in Roanoke, Va.p. p. North Carolina State
Four years ago, Stephen Conley was a precocious middle school student in Raleigh, N.C., who took calculus classes at North Carolina State Univ. Now 16 years old, he is the university’s youngest graduate ever, having received a degree in computer science earlier this month.p. And has he ever changed. In four years, he has grown 8 inches and gained 30 pounds or more. His voice has changed. And he has a driver’s license.p. Stephen skipped high school altogether and enrolled in college at the age of 12, so he was sometimes mystified by college life and the ways of his friends, some of whom are up to 12 years his senior. “I don’t see how they managed to party all night and stay on their feet the next day,” he said.p. Next up is a job as a computer programmer in the Raleigh office for the Electronic Data Systems Corp., a computer services company based in Plano, Texas. New York University
p. Susan Johnston, who was adopted when she was a child, was rummaging through her father’s safe deposit box after he died when she found a set of documents revealing the name of her birth mother.p. She tracked down her birth mother, in Morgantown, W.Va., and learned that her grandmother, who died several years earlier, had left some money to the granddaughter she had never known, in the hope that she would one day return.p. Ms. Johnston had dropped out of Bard College after a year because she ran out of money. The inheritance, $7,000, was enough for her to resume her college education at New York University.p. She later found her birth father, an antiques dealer in Baltimore. Both her birth parents joined her mother and sister this month to watch her receive a bachelor’s degree in theatrical performance and religion. She now plans to attend NYU’s master’s program in dramatic writing on a scholarship.p. Rensselaer Polytechnic
p. Ten years ago, Richard Yulman, co-chairman of the Serta Mattress Co., told 97 sixth graders at Arbor Hill Elementary School in inner-city Albany that if they went to college, he would pay their tuition.p. The odds were against him. After all, few students at Arbor Hill had even graduated from high school. But this year the first four of those students received their degrees — two from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, one from Cornell University and one from Howard University.p. Forty others are still in school and receiving assistance from Yulman, who has spent more than $500,000 to date on his “I Have a Dream” scholarships.p. Yulman, who grew up in the Albany area, modeled his pledge after that of Eugene Lang, a businessman who offered scholarships to sixth graders at Lang’s old school in East Harlem in 1981.p. “I think of these kids as my kids,” said Yulman, who now lives in Coral Gables, Fla., but stays in touch with several of the students. “It’s the best gift-giving I’ve ever done.”p. William and Mary College
p. Thomas Jefferson 4th is a direct descendant of Thomas Jefferson’s uncle, Field Jefferson. He grew up in Virginia (like his famous forebear), went to William and Mary’s law school (ditto), and even dabbled in public service (OK, so he served as a clerk in the Virginia legislature, while Thomas Jefferson went on to draft the Declaration of Independence and become the third president of the United States).p. Now, after graduating from William and Mary, Jefferson, 31, will begin a one-year clerkship with a judge on the 3d U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, in Philadelphia.p. Jefferson, who is called Jeff, thinks his name is fun but not that odd. His boss in the legislature was named Andrew Johnson. And once, he found himself competing in a bicycle race with someone named John Adams.

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