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NIU student in wheelchair writes happy ending with Mother’s Day weekend master’s graduation

May 10, 2012
John Mravik teaches in his Elgin Community College classroom.

John Mravik teaches in his Elgin Community College classroom.

John Mravik’s life is like a book filled with a series of tragic – and even near-death – chapters, along with a few joyous ones.

One of those joyous chapters will be written Friday evening when the Elgin resident accepts his  master’s of arts degree during the graduate school commencement. He’ll receive his diploma while sitting in the motorized wheelchair he has needed since he was 15.

In that year of his life, he lost the use of his arms and legs after falling from his bicycle and breaking his neck. That was one of his tragic chapters; one that could have ended his life.

“The day it happened, the doctors told my parents that if I lived through the night, I won’t be able to eat. I won’t be able to breathe. I won’t be able to move. They didn’t think I would live long,” Mravik said. “That was 14 years ago.”

It was up to Mravik and his family to write the following chapters of his life so they did not end sadly.

With help, he is able to eat. Without the use of a respirator, he is able to breathe on his own.

After eight months in the hospital, he was released and returned to an existence he never knew. The son of Gerald and Joyce Mravik had to learn to use a wheelchair by tapping his head on the head pad.

He’s mastered it.

Eventually, he finished high school and attended Roosevelt University. Mravik didn’t want to stop with just a bachelor’s degree, though.

He enrolled in NIU’s English teaching certificate program in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences in 2009. After obtaining that, he wanted to continue his English education, so he enrolled in the department’s master’s degree program. After two years of studying, he has earned his degree.

To write his academic papers, he depended on the Dragon NaturallySpeaking speech-recognition software. To read his assignments, he depended on employees in NIU’s Center for Access-Ability Resources. They adapted his textbooks into electronic formats so he could read them at his own pace without the help of a pager-turner.

For motivation, he embraced of his family’s support and thought of a life that could have been.

“For better or worse, this is my life,” he said. “I didn’t want to just sit at home. We have one time around, and I don’t want to waste mine.”

After graduation, Mravik will continue to work as a part-time adjunct English instructor at Elgin Community College. He started as an English tutor there and eventually was assigned a class to teach, which helped him to realize he can make a difference.

“I like being a teacher. I like being able to empower my students through the written word,” he said. “I teach at the pre-college level and help students find their voices.”

That’s another chapter he is writing. The one that he will write on NIU’s DeKalb’s campus this week will be happy for him beyond compare.

“It’s sweet. It’s taking place on Mother’s Day weekend. I can’t think of a better present for my mother.”

by Gerard Dziuba