Three years ago, after returning from a high school trip to New York City, Rachel Stokes woke up and could not walk or hold her head up. Terrified, she went to the doctor and, after a series of tests, found out that she had Myasthenia Gravis, which meant that her nerves and muscles were not communicating with one another.
That week, Stokes’ life changed dramatically. She went from walking around independently to relying on her wheelchair for any long distance. But even in such discouraging circumstances, Stokes fought to stay positive and active despite her situation.
Rachel Stokes, a freshman elementary education major, is originally from Locust Grove, Georgia and wants to teach third graders after she graduates. She uses an electronic wheelchair that she refers to as a “scooter” to navigate Union’s campus, but she has not let the wheelchair hamper her from plugging into to campus life.
Stokes is a member of SGA’s Freshman Council, involved in her LifeGroup and enjoys attending campus events and meeting new people.
“I don’t have a lot of difficulties or daily struggles,” she said. “I’m able to do stuff on my own. Yeah, it’s hard to open doors and whenever people are around, I ask if they could open one. But it’s been a real humbling experience, just because I was super independent before.”
Stokes came to Union after her father suggested she look into the school. She was hesitant at first, but agreed to take a tour.
“The rooms are great, the layout of the campus is great, and I fell in love,” Stokes said. “The people here are so nice and really have a heart for God, and that’s what I was looking for in a campus. Too, [I like] the flatness of the campus – just because most of the Baptist colleges in Georgia are in the mountains, and in my wheelchair that would be really hard.”
Of the many lessons Stokes has learned through her experiences over the past few years, she said the biggest was learning to rely on others.
“That was really hard for me, because I saw it as a sign of weakness, and I didn’t want to ask for anything,” she said. “But God started showing me that he’s putting people in my life for a reason and they are here to help me.”
In her free time, Stokes loves to “Netflix,” (which she likes to use as a verb) and try new recipes. Though she uses her wheelchair to get around campus, she does not use it in her dorm.
Stokes said she believes Union is pretty handicap-friendly, but it needs more handicap-accessible doors. Stokes is using her position in SGA to lobby for other handicap students.
“I’ve been trying to bring this [issue] up in SGA to write a bill,” Stokes said. “A bill passed a few years ago, but I want to bring it back up and write a bill to get more handicap accessible doors. We need [at least] one for the C/D hallway to the PAC.”
Her advice for fellow Unionites is to “get involved as much as possible and go to events. They’re a lot of fun and that’s a way to meet other people in your class and in your college.”