Tennessee Tech News

Tech student overcomes adversity in earning degree

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Greg Mercer earned a degree in interdisciplinary studies with an emphasis in psychology and humanities at Tennessee Tech despite suffering from arthrogryposis.

Published Friday Jan 5, 2018

Life has never been easy for Greg Mercer.

He was born with a condition called arthrogryposis, which is caused by calcium building in the joints.

“This weakens muscle tissue, locks joints in place and makes my bones very brittle,” said Mercer. “I was breech, which meant I could not move while my mother was pregnant.”

Despite the life-long disability, Mercer accomplished something in December he has been working very hard to do — graduate from Tennessee Tech.

With his mother Debbie LaPoint in the audience, along with several other family members, Mercer participated in the morning commencement ceremony, marking the end of his college career.

“When I was sitting there about to graduate, it finally hit me — I was graduating,” said Mercer. “I came to Tech searching for who I wanted to be. Many of Tech’s professors helped me find that person.”

A 2009 graduate of Cookeville High School, Mercer was already very familiar with Tech before he arrived on campus. In 2007, mechanical engineering students in professor Stephen Canfield’s dynamics of machinery class helped develop a remote control door opener for Mercer’s wheelchair. With the remote control, he could open and close the door at home as well as lock and unlock it. Prior to the project, Mercer wasn’t able to be alone at home because of his inability to open and shut and lock the door to the apartment he shared with his mother at that time.

At Tech, he didn’t let his disability keep him from working on a degree. He writes and types with a pencil in his mouth at times. He was in a wreck that damaged his knee, and returned to school quickly with his leg still in pain. His college career progressed slowly, taking him eight years to earn a degree in interdisciplinary studies with an emphasis in psychology and humanities.

“I cannot tell you the joy and pride I have for this young man,” said Mercer’s cousin, Barbara Gooch. “I told him he was such an inspiration, and I meant it.”

While Tech made an impact on Mercer, he also made an impact while on campus.

“I had the privilege of teaching Greg in a summer class while a colleague was out sick for a week,” said Eric Harris, an associate professor in the music department. “I was stunned by the exceptional young man’s attitude, intellect, work ethic and example. In the end, I think I learned more from him than he did from me.”

“He is an inspiration,” said Ahmed Elsawy, chairperson of the department of manufacturing and engineering technology. “I wish him the best in his future endeavors.”

At the age of 27, Mercer isn’t exactly sure what is next for him. But, he is hoping to continue making an impact in people’s lives.

“Hopefully, I will help people,” said Mercer. “No matter what I do work-wise, I just want to know that I made a difference in their life.”

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