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Steps Seen Nationwide Echo Close to Home

Photo of Gerene TeKippe receiving diploma

June 2017


As Gerene TeKippe walked the eight or so feet to the center of the stage to accept her St. Ambrose University Bachelor of Arts degree in Psychology on May 13, she had no idea how far those steps would echo.

Nor, perhaps, how much they would mean to someone very close to her story.

Born with spina bifida and in a wheelchair since eighth grade, TeKippe hatched a plan to surprise her parents by taking that walk to receive her degree.

With an assist from Ryan Saddler '95, '06 MEd, director of The SAU Accessibility Resource Center, she pulled it off magnificently, too-with a handful of cameras recording the happy surprise registered on the faces of her parents, John and Sherri TeKippe, while others focused on Gerene.

Those moments — with rousing applause from across the arena providing a soundtrack — were woven into two beautifully rendered video stories.

The first report aired on WQAD-TV in Moline, Illinois, and subsequently reached the airwaves in the TeKippe family's hometown of Des Moines, Iowa. It gained further exposure when it was aired nationally on CNN.

"National news wasn't even near my radar," Gerene TeKippe said weeks later. "But my disability has served as a wonderful teaching tool over the years. I was able to celebrate my graduation and do it in the best way. And, by sharing my story, I'm able to tell people all over the world that they can do that, too."

When she returns to St. Ambrose in August to pursue a Master of Social Work degree, TeKippe won't have to look far to know that message resonated.

Standing behind one of the cameras recording her story was Johnna (Klossing) Kerres '09, production specialist at SAUtv. While producing an in-house story for the university, Kerres could not help but be touched by TeKippe's courage and moved by her message.

Her son Everett will celebrate his first birthday in September. He also was born with spina bifida.

"Seeing everything Gerene has overcome and accomplished gives me faith that my son will be able to do that, too," Kerres said. "Seeing the reaction of Gerene's parents was an especially powerful moment because I can imagine myself in their shoes one day.

"I definitely look up to them as parents. I think they set a great example for my husband and me, and being able to talk with them put some things into perspective. I am grateful for the opportunity to have met them."

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