by JAMIE CREAMER
Two things made Danielle Tadych’s graduation from Auburn University in December over-the-top special.
First, she graduated alongside Chris, her year-older brother and near-constant companion for the past 21 years. Even before he cleared the stage with his bachelor’s degree in animal sciences/pre-vet in hand, she was accepting hers in environmental science.
“Chris and I were able to sit next to each other during the ceremony, and at one point while we were waiting for it to begin, he turned to me and said, ‘I’m glad we’re going through this together,’” she says. “I, of course, told him not to get soft on me.
“But we started college at the same time, and because we had similar majors, we took many classes together as well,” she says. “Finishing with him made it extra wonderful.”
So that was the first thing. The second thing was what happened as she crossed the stage.
“I first heard my family cheering, but then everybody in the [Auburn] Arena started clapping,” she says. “My first thought was, they were clapping for whoever was behind me, but then I remembered there wasn’t anybody behind me; I was the last [graduate] in [the College of Agriculture] line. They were clapping for me.”
It’s easy to understand why. Audience members couldn’t help but admire the fragile young lady in the wheelchair for having overcome what must have been grueling challenges and adversities on her way to a college degree.
Only, it wasn’t that way at all. Not for the interminably optimistic, always-upbeat Danielle. The spunky ball of fire is living proof that positive thinking is powerful, that attitude truly is everything.
Tadych has osteogenesis imperfecta, or brittle bone disease, a genetic disorder in which the body lacks bone-strengthening collagen and, thus, bones easily break, sometimes for no apparent reason. She was diagnosed shortly after she entered the world, screaming with the pain of two broken arms.
She has never stood or walked unaided and never will. She’s broken every bone in her body—except for those in her fingers, toes and face—at least once. She’s endured nine surgeries. But the thing is, the 3-foot-tall, 45-pound Danielle is fine with every bit of that.
“This is how I was born, so it’s the only life I know, which is good, really, because I don’t have anything to compare it to,” the Opelika native says. “I’m totally comfortable with my disability. This, to me, is ‘normal.’ I won’t let it get in the way of things I want to do in life.”
And you can count on that. Though, for now, she’s taking a break from academia and hopes to find a job related to her degree, she is certain she’ll return to college to pursue her master’s and perhaps her Ph.D. in environmental science or soil science. Ultimately, she wants to do research aimed at reversing the process of desertification, or the expansion of deserts and loss of vegetation.
“I also want to be an advocate for people with disabilities and promote them in science,” she says. “We never know where life will lead us, of course. But whatever I end up doing, I hope to be in a position to help and love people.”