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Determination, faith propel injured student to fal...

Determination, faith propel injured student to fall 2015 graduation

An Academy Award-winning actress’s aura was in evidence at Murphy Center during MTSU’s fall 2015 commencement ceremonies Saturday, Dec. 12.

As Rachel Ruppe walked across the stage to receive her bachelor’s degree in English, the excited crowd cheered her accomplishment much as the late Patricia Neal’s peers cheered in 1963 for her Best Actress Oscar win.

With staff assistance, MTSU English major Rachel Ruppe undergoes her weekly physical therapy at Patricia Neal Rehabilitation Center in Knoxville, Tennessee. Ruppe, who suffered traumatic brain injury in a Nov. 5, 2011, auto accident, will graduate Saturday, Dec. 12, at Murphy Center. (Photo submitted)

With a staff member’s assistance, MTSU English major Rachel Ruppe undergoes her weekly physical therapy at Patricia Neal Rehabilitation Center in Knoxville, Tennessee. Ruppe, who suffered traumatic brain injury in a Nov. 5, 2011, auto accident, will graduate Saturday, Dec. 12, at Murphy Center. (Photo submitted)

“It’s hard to put into words,” Ruppe said. “I guess it’s because I don’t believe it until it actually gets here … I’ve been waiting for so long.”

Ruppe, who had a full academic scholarship and a 4.0 GPA, was less than a semester away from graduation on Nov. 5, 2011, and on a weekend trip home to see her family.

Her car ran off the road in rural Morgan County, overcorrected and smashed into a tree.

She was airlifted to a Knoxville hospital, where she was diagnosed with traumatic brain injury. Medical professionals issued a grim prognosis.

“They told me when we brought her home, ‘Take her to the nursing home. She’ll probably never get out of the bed,’” said Jennifer Ruppe, Rachel’s mother.

Defying the experts, Jennifer Ruppe took her daughter to the Patricia Neal Rehabilitation Center at Fort Sanders Regional Medical Center, where she learned how to walk and talk all over again.

“The room that Rachel was in … was the room that Patricia Neal herself occupied when she was there, and they call it ‘The Miracle Room,’” Jennifer said. “And she certainly is a miracle.”

The center is named for the Knoxville native, who starred in motion pictures such as “The Fountainhead,” “The Day the Earth Stood Still,” “The Subject Was Roses,” “A Face in the Crowd” and “Hud,” for which she received the 1963 Oscar for Best Actress.

Patricia Neal, 1968

Patricia Neal, 1968

Neal suffered three massive strokes while she was pregnant with her fifth child in 1965. Her husband, author Roald Dahl, insisted that she undergo rigorous rehabilitation, resulting in a successful delivery of a healthy daughter and a triumphant return to acting.

Neal died in 2010 at age 84.

The center that bears her name serves stroke, spinal cord and brain injury patients like Rachel.

Because of Jennifer Ruppe’s determination and her daughter’s hard work through years of online classes, 25-year-old Rachel is the first member of her family to earn a college diploma.

She received that diploma in person, navigating her walker across the stage to accept the document from MTSU President Sidney A. McPhee.

Rachel reached this goal by taking online classes from her home in Oakdale, Tennessee. While she called attending classes via computer “wonderful,” there are aspects of a brick-and-mortar education she misses.

“I liked the experience of being in the classroom because I’m a people person,” she said. “I like being around people. I like talking to people.”

That trait will serve her well as her adviser, English professor Jimmie Cain, and rehabilitation specialists work to help her get a job that she can perform via computer from her home.

“Rachel has been an inspiration to me,” said Cain.

“Despite the severe challenges she has had to overcome, Rachel has never wavered in her intention to complete her degree in English and to graduate from MTSU, maintaining a positive outlook and a cheerful disposition even in the most difficult of times.”

You can read more about fall 2015 commencement here.

— Gina K. Logue (gina.logue@mtsu.edu)


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