Turning a Thinking Cap into a Graduation Cap

Alex and Carlos - The Graduates

Alex and Carlos - The Graduates

When Alex Woodall was in high school, he fell in love. He fell in love with the Spanish language.

   “I knew it was something I wanted to continue to study,” he said. “Initially my interest was in media but that market is too unsteady. With Spanish, there will always be job security.”

   Where to continue his education, however, was little more undecided. After hearing great things about Wright State University in Dayton, Ohio, Alex and his parents made the decision.  “We knew that Wright State was academically a good school,” he said. “But just as important, we had been told by [numerous physicians and therapists] that it was an extremely accessible campus.”

   In fact, the year Alex enrolled, he was one of 18 students on campus using a mobility device.

   “That was a big thing for me, "Alex said. “The very first friend I made on campus was also in a wheelchair. He has spinal muscular atrophy. Then, together, we met another friend in a wheelchair. It was an important part of my success there—those friendships. When I was in high school, my dad used to tell me he was excited for me to go to college and meet other people like me. What he meant by that was, other people with disabilities. I had attended all mainstream classes while at Pickerington Central High School. Having a disability in common with another person was great.”

   Alex recalls one afternoon, as a Freshman on campus, he and his friends were hanging out in the dorm room when his friend dropped his phone on the floor.

   “Everybody in the room was in a wheelchair and we spent the next hour trying to figure out how we were going to pick up that phone. We tried everything—even a magnetic object retriever—but nothing worked. After a while we looked on my bed where my service dog Carlos was laying. We looked back at each other like, duh! Needless to say, Carlos retrieve the phone from the floor. It was covered in slobber but my friend got his phone back.”

   Carlos the dog stayed by Alex’s side the entire five and a half years that he lived in the dorm on campus. So when it came time to order a cap and gown for graduation, it only seemed fair that Carlos get one too.

   “The man from the bookstore took his measurements for the cap and gown and had them specially made for Carlos, on the house,” he said. “It’s great because Carlos is my arms and my legs. I have CP so he does a lot of retrieval for me. It only seemed fair for him to be dressed for the occasion too.”

   While Alex said some modifications were made to make his on-campus experience possible, his disability did not prohibit him from being able to travel to Spain in 2013 as a Wright State University Ambassador.

   “I was lucky enough to travel with other students and my dad to Spain for two weeks that summer,” Alex recalled. “The program was called Spanish Culture from a Culinary Perspective.  We literally ate our way through Spain.”

   Alex and his classmates traveled to Madrid and then explored smaller towns in Northwest Spain such as Ponferrada—where he enjoyed a disco; and the college town of Salanaca, where he stayed with a host family. His favorite dish? Tortilla Española—an egg dish with potatoes and onions.  (see below)

  For now, Alex is completing some job-seeking training from BVR and will soon begin the job application process in central Ohio. He dreams of being a Spanish interpreter, translator and proofreader. He says if asked by others with a disability whether to pursue an on-campus college experience, he would highly recommend it.

   “The hesitancy is understandable—by parents and their kids,” he said. “It’s not for everybody and it’s not a cakewalk. You have to be flexible in every situation, just as you want others to be flexible with you. But it’s totally worth it. I’m going to miss college a lot.”

Tortillas Espanola

1 1/2 c. olive oil

2 1/2 pounds potatoes, peeled and diced

2 1/2 cups chopped yellow onion

1 T salt

10 large eggs

   Heat oil in a 12-inch nonstick skillet over moderate heat until hot but not smoking and add potatoes, onion, and half of salt. Cook over moderately low heat, stirring occasionally, until vegetables are very tender but not colored, about 45 minutes. Drain vegetables in a large colander set over a bowl and cool 5 minutes. Lightly beat eggs in a large bowl. Gently stir in vegetables with 1 tablespoon oil, salt, and pepper to taste.

   Return 1 tablespoon oil to skillet and add mixture, pressing potatoes flush with eggs. Cook over low heat, covered, 12 to 15 minutes, or until almost set. Turn off heat and let stand, covered, 15 minutes. Shake skillet gently to make sure tortilla is set on bottom and not sticking to skillet. Invert tortilla onto a large flat plate and slide back into skillet, bottom side up. (Alternatively, especially if top is still loose at this point, slide tortilla onto plate first. Cover it with skillet and invert tortilla back into skillet.) Round edge with a rubber spatula and cook over low heat, covered, 15 minutes more, or until set. Slide tortilla onto a serving plate and serve warm. Is often served with an aioli sauce.