Injured nursing graduate honored with special commencement ceremony
A month and six days after her fellow Louisiana Tech 2023 Spring Commencement graduates received their diplomas in the Thomas Assembly Center, nursing graduate MacKenzie Maier received hers this early Friday afternoon during a special diploma presentation in her honor in Touro Rehab in New Orleans.
On Thursday, May 18, the day before she was supposed to receive her nursing pin and two days before she was to graduate with her friends and fellow nursing graduates, MacKenzie was involved in an automobile accident and suffered a spinal cord injury. Her injuries left her with diminished use of her upper extremities and no movement of her legs.
Now she is feeding herself, popping wheelies in her wheelchair, and studying for the national licensing exam she plans to take in late July to become a registered nurse.
On Monday, July 3 at Ruston Regional, one of the many places where she did her clinical rotations — “They had us going all over the place!” said the 22-year-old from Ville Platte whose friends call her “Mac” — MacKenzie is scheduled in a special ceremony to receive the nursing pin she earned at Tech.
But first, Friday, when she officially graduated.
With U.S. Senator Bill Cassidy, Tech President Dr. Les Guice, and College of Applied and Natural Sciences Dean Dr. Gary Kennedy in regalia, and with family and friends and her Touro rehab specialists in attendance, Guice presented MacKenzie with both her diploma and her Tech Medallion.
MacKenzie, the happy 2023 Spring graduate, was in her cap and gown, which arrived in the mail earlier in the week.
“I think she was more upset with missing the pinning and the graduation ceremony than she was about the accident,” said her pharmacist father Chuck Maier. “The whole spring quarter, that’s all she could talk about. That’s sort of your rite of passage. After the ceremony, you go out into the world and do what you were meant to do.”
“Tech has been amazing; I was so sad to miss graduation and this just means so much,” MacKenzie said. “To be honest, this has been a journey I could have never imagined, and it hasn’t been an easy one, but I’m so grateful for the love, for all my family and friends and Tech professors who have reached out. It’s made this so much easier. I’m just so grateful for each of them and for the support system I have.”
Although Guice never walked across a stage for any of his graduations, he hasn’t missed any since he’s been Tech President.
“It’s such an important and impactful day for graduates and their families,” he said.
Cassidy called Guice a few days ago and expressed interest in presenting MacKenzie’s diploma to her. In the past, the Tech President has been part of several special ceremonies for students with serious health issues or University obligations, such as athletic events, that kept them from being at their commencement.
“I was glad to offer that opportunity for both the senator and I to have a short ceremony for MacKenzie in the hospital,” Guice said. “I think it’s so important for graduates to have that experience of commencement, of walking across that stage and realizing that they achieved the goals for which they had aspired, and celebrating their accomplishment.
“For Senator Cassidy to reach out with a desire to present her the diploma and to commit to traveling to NOLA to present it to her says a lot about him,” Guice said. “And at the same with MacKenzie, to see how much this means to her reflects both her commitment to education and her passion for serving others as a nurse.”
Which is exactly what she plans to do.
“Once I pass my licensing exam, I’ll be a registered nurse, and we’ll go from there,” she said. “I’ve had a lot of peace; I expected this to be a lot harder. It’s one of those things, a bump in the road you have to get through. My determination is to get back up and walk again and do what I’ve always had planned. I still have physical therapy so I don’t know what job I’ll have yet, but we’ll get there. It just might take a little longer.”
She’s faced a similar challenge. When she was just more than four years old, she was diagnosed with cancer and given a 30 percent chance to live. Ten other children in her area began treatments when she did. After a year of treatments when she was declared cancer free, MacKenzie was the only one of the 11 still alive.
“I credit the doctors and medicine and the Lord above, but also I credit her positive attitude,” her dad said. “It’s the same thing now. She refused to wallow in pity then, and she’s not going to do that now.
“We lived in Southern California at the time, and after every treatment, we’d go to Disneyland and celebrate,” he said. “We never focused on the negative, only on the positive. This is just one more battle.”
“Since I was 4, I think in the back of my mind I always wanted to be a nurse,” MacKenzie said. “Since I was in the hospital then, nurses have always been my favorite people. I wanted to help people like they helped me then and like they’re helping me now.”