Corporate communications major Brittney Walker, of Yeadon, will finally fulfill a dream on Friday, Dec. 16, when she walks on stage to receive her diploma from Penn State Brandywine. Through much adversity, she has not just persevered; she has flourished.
When she was 13, Walker was diagnosed with muscular dystrophy (MD). According to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders, MD refers to a group of more than 30 genetic diseases that cause progressive weakness and degeneration of skeletal muscles used during voluntary movement. The National Center for Disease Control and Prevention cites that every year in the United States alone, between 400 and 600 children are born with MD.
Walker noted that the "biggest obstacle I overcome daily is my physical disability." However, she adds "I don't like labels so I don't consider myself handicapped." She certainly does not let MD slow her down.
Assistant Professor Jennifer Zosh, a mentor and friend to Walker, said, "One of the things that has always impressed me about Penn State Brandywine is the resiliency of our students. They face incredible challenges, and they not only rise to the occasion but also become stronger than they ever knew possible. Brittney Walker is an example of one of these amazing students. Despite taking up to 20 credits in a semester, being actively involved in student groups and working in the office of Student Affairs, she always takes the time to be friendly and helpful in any way that she can--to faculty, staff and peers. She is an amazing student, an amazing leader and an amazing person. I consider myself very lucky to have been a part of her Penn State family."
Over the years, Walker has been an extremely active member of the Penn State community. She started out as a work-study participant in the Admissions office. Then she moved on to a position in Student Affairs, where she performs clerical duties and also helps coordinate programs such as Multicultural Week.
In addition to her classes and office duties, Walker is very active in campus clubs. She served as Student Government Association (SGA) secretary during the 2008-2009 academic year and president during 2009-2010. She left SGA so she could participate in THON, the largest student-run philanthropy in the world. She served as a THON member during her first year, became the family relations chair during the 2009-2010 fundraising year and served as the chapter's overall co-chair, along with Martina Gill, during 2010-2011.
All of the proceeds from THON's fundraisers benefit pediatric cancer research. The largest fundraiser is the Penn State IFC/Panhellenic Dance Marathon. During this event, dancers stay on their feet--and the dance floor--for 46 straight hours. While her MD prohibits Walker from dancing, she travels to University Park for the event every year and stays with the dancers the entire time, getting them whatever they need.
"They all call me momma bear," Walker said, laughing. While sticking around for all those hours is physically draining, Walker noted "it is worth it when you see the smile on the kids' faces ? it's the best thing to see them carefree for that weekend. We don't complain about being tired, because they don't complain about their treatments."
When asked about her future plans, she said she has a "strong desire to help young people, whether it's at-risk kids or young ladies. My heart goes out to adolescents."
Walker adds that she recently lost two people that were very close to her and her family and she saw how this hurt her little brothers. Through this, she has begun to act as an unofficial mentor to young people at her church. She also plans to return to school at some point to obtain a doctorate in psychology.
Meanwhile, Walker is excited about graduating. " A lot of people didn't believe in me," she said. "I try and use that as a point" to demonstrate to others that they too can achieve their dreams. "Sometimes I get up in pain or get on two buses to get here and then stay until nine o'clock at night. If I can do that, then other people can accomplish their goals, too.
"I am grateful for the opportunity to be a part of the Penn State Brandywine family," Walker said. "It has been a blessing to meet people here; they are like my family. Penn State Brandywine has definitely become my second home." In the future, she plans to keep strong ties with the Penn State community by continuing her work with THON and by also possibly joining the alumni association.
-Jennifer Santangelo, senior