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Oxford’s Perrin serves at valedictorian at Mount St. Vincent University

Honorary degree recipient Rick Hansen talks with Oxford native and Mount St. Vincent University valedictorian Casey Perrin following graduation ceremonies at the Halifax university on May 17.
Honorary degree recipient Rick Hansen talks with Oxford native and Mount St. Vincent University valedictorian Casey Perrin following graduation ceremonies at the Halifax university on May 17. - Contributed

Para athlete has advocated for increased accessibility at Halifax school

BEDFORD, N.S. —

Eight years ago Casey Perrin was in a coma in a Halifax hospital facing an uncertain future. Now she’s not only a university grad, but she was also valedictorian of her graduating class at Mount St. Vincent University.

Even more special was delivering her valedictory address in front of a special honorary degree recipient in Rick Hansen.

“It was surreal,” said the 26-year-old Oxford native, who was in a serious ATV crash eight years ago that left her with a brain injury and a paraplegic. “First to learn I was nominated to serve as valedictorian and then to learn that Rick Hansen would be there was incredible.”

Perrin, who has been competing nationally and internationally and won a bronze medal at the 2017 Canada Games in the female para shot put competition, used her valedictory speech to remind grads to reach for their goals and never take no for an answer even when it would be easier to do so.

“My advice to you is be your own advocate and do not let no stop you,” she said during her speech on May 17. “Fight for your dreams, believe in yourself and stand up – or in my case sit down – for what is right.”

Perrin, who graduated with a bachelor of arts and a non-profit leadership certificate and will be working with intellectually challenged in Enfield this summer, has advocated for improved accessibility at Mount St. Vincent, including meeting with university president and vice-chancellor Dr. Mary Bluechardt to urge her to make improvements to the Seton Auditorium so physically challenged individuals like her could attend graduation ceremonies.

The stage was made accessible with leveled access, a new accessible washroom was added and another renovated while further accessible parking was added.

“I wasn’t asking for anything big,” she said. “I was going to graduate but the auditorium had stairs. The university had a new president in 2017 and I went to meet her in her first week. I said I want to graduate like everyone else so you need to make this happen. Two years later, she and her team did it.”

Perrin said she received an email from a university official to discuss graduation and she was thinking the worse until she was told the auditorium is now completely accessible. It’s not just for her, but for all future grads facing barriers.

“I’m proud to have been a part of it,” she said.

Perrin first met Hansen eight years ago in July 2011 when she was in rehab. She admitted to not being impressed because she was still frustrated with her plight following her crash. He left her a book at the time with an inspirational message.

“After you have a serious accident your life changes and you really don’t know what to think,” she said. “He gave me a book and it said ‘work hard, stay positive, make the best of what you have, never give up on your dreams and anything is possible.’ At the time it really didn’t mean a lot to me, but now eight years later it meant everything to me.”

Perrin said she repeated what Hansen wrote and told her fellow grads to go outside the doors of the university and accomplish their dreams. It was followed by a standing ovation.

Looking back at what has happened since her crash, even she is amazed at her progress considering an intern at the rehabilitation centre said she’d be lucky if she could add one plus one.

As for the future, she’s looking ahead to her summer internship and still dreams of attending law school.

During his address, Hansen shared the story of his accident and reflected on the many mentors who helped him on his journey. He also called on the grads to pay it forward at every opportunity and be part of the effort to create an inclusive world.

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