Jon Mark Beilue: The Surprise Graduation Ceremony
 

The Surprise Graduation Ceremony

One car wreck, one hospital stay, one missed commencement—or was it?

By JON MARK BEILUE

It was almost a year ago and Anastasia Rademaekers was in an ICU room at University Medical Center in Lubbock with three things on her often-foggy mind.

Her recovery? Well, yes, that certainly fit in there somewhere, but if returning to health was No. 1, passing her comprehensive exam for her Masters of Science in finance and economics at West Texas A&M was 1A, and that, if she did, the certainty that she could not participate in graduation ceremonies in just a few days was 1B.

Here was Rademaekers, intubated no less after a car accident between Amarillo and Claude, using her father Jeff’s cell phone to send a text to Dr. Anne Macy, professor of finance, to see if she passed her final exam.

“I guess it got out where it somewhat made sense,” Rademaekers said. “I don’t know how many times I had asked my mother before she knew.”

Only a few days earlier, Dec. 8, 2017, to be exact, Rademaekers had completed an exam that was the equivalent of the bar exam for attorneys. To complete her master’s degree, Rademaekers had to pass a two-part exam that consisted of qualitative and quantitative economics, qualitative and quantitative finance, governance and an international section.

“It was a total beast,” she said. “It was one of those things that I studied as hard as I could and felt good about what I had turned in, but you just don’t know until you hear officially.”

Iwana Rademaekers, in the same car during the accident, could relate but was still amazed at her daughter’s awareness.

“When you’re ventilated, you’re supposed to be unconscious,” she said, “but I’m an attorney, and so I know what that’s like when you have an exam like that. It’s like your whole life is on hold until you know what happens.”

Macy replied back—a day earlier than results were supposed to posted—that not only did Anastasia pass, but she had the highest score.

Now that was good recovery medicine, but now made missing fall commencement on Dec. 16 bittersweet. There was no way she could function at the ceremonies with a compressed vertebra, a shredded aorta and damage to both intestines.

“It was extremely disappointing,” Rademaekers said. “I worked so hard for a year-and-a-half and to have it taken away. It (commencement) was a bigger deal than an undergrad degree. After undergrad, it was, ‘OK, I got more school in three weeks.’ But this was really the end, a time to get hooded and not just a diploma.”

Alive, but at risk

It’s not an exaggeration that Rademaekers was fortunate to be alive. It was supposed to be a fun, but long day trip to Dallas with her mother last Dec. 11. Her exam was behind her and the holidays in front of her. The two flew to Dallas to pick up a new car, a 2016 Buick Regal, to replace the one that had been totaled when Anastasia was in a T-Bone accident in Amarillo two months before.

The two had flown to Love Field on a 6 a.m. redeye, got the car, did some shopping and left around 5:30 p.m. for Amarillo. They were about 17 miles from Amarillo at 11 p.m. when Iwana, who was driving, got too comfortable behind the wheel.

“I just went to sleep,” she said. “I nodded off briefly. It was a cautionary tale.”

In just a few seconds, the car veered into the median of Highway 287, rolled about five times and came to stop on the other side in the southbound lanes. Anastasia had been asleep, but remembers just grass.

Iwana, who would later be diagnosed with a concussion, was the first out of the car. She urged her daughter to get out in case the car caught on fire. The car was upside down, and so was she.

Anastasia unhooked herself from the seat belt. The windshield was cracked, but still in place. She had one shoe on, and kicked the windshield out and escaped.

“My adrenaline was going a thousand miles an hour,” she said. “Kicking the windshield out was my super hero moment.”

But once outside in the cold, Anastasia knew something was wrong. She was in intense pain in her stomach. Her toe was numb. A passing motorist, who was a nurse, stopped and called 911. She gave Anastasia a blanket, and told her to stay awake until paramedics arrived.

She was taken to Northwest Texas Hospital. Another ambulance took her mother. After some initial tests, Anastasia was flighted to UMC in Lubbock.

Anastasia’s small and large intestines were damaged by the seat belt. Her spine had two compression fractures. Most serious of all was the spine pushed against the aorta, shredding the inside lining and causing a blood clot that reduced blood flow.

“If her aorta had been perforated, we would have had 20 minutes to operate,” Iwana said. “We didn’t realize how close we came to losing her.”

Anastasia was in the Lubbock hospital for 13 days. After her release, it was a slow recovery and rehab with home health care every other day. Surgeons decided to leave the incision on the first of two surgeries open to heal better.

But what about graduation?

In the meantime, Iwana emailed Macy, telling her that Anastasia was disappointed she missed graduation. Maybe she and husband Dr. Neil Terry, dean of the Paul and Virginia Engler College of Business, could stop by at some point, present her with her diploma and maybe enjoy some finger food in the process.

“This is why you go into teaching, for students like Anastasia,” Macy said. “She is the complete package. She is a dear, dear person to me. We couldn’t redo graduation, but I thought we could do something better than that.”

Anastasia Rademaekers' surprise graduationSo on Jan. 30, 2018, 50 days after the accident, Anastasia got a text from Macy asking her to stop by the business school that afternoon to complete some minor paperwork to make her degree official. Sounded a little odd, but her mother volunteered to drive her to WTAMU.

When they arrived in the lobby of the second floor of the Paul and Virginia Engler College of Business, there were Macy, her husband, Dr. Terry, Dr. De’Arno DeArmond, Dr. Jonathan Shaffer and Dr. James Owens. They were all dressed for a graduation.

“They were in their regalia, and I was kind of confused,” Anastasia said. “I thought they had some pictures made. Then Macy said, ‘You’re kind of underdressed.’ I was clueless as to what was going on. Then it clicked. They were giving me a private graduation. Embarrassingly, I started crying.”

Terry performed his graduation speech. He then hooded her and presented her master’s degree, and then there was a reception. And a new master’s graduate was surprised, yet not surprised.

“This just showed me why I chose WT in the first place because they care so much about their students,” she said. “It was just one of the most wonderful things anyone has ever done for me.

“No one can beat WT on the care for students and the personal relationships you have with faculty. I never dreamed a university this size would care about students like that, but they do. It has been wonderful.”

Since then, Anastasia Rademaekers has had one final surgery in September. After that, she joined EnergyNet, an oil and gas marketplace headquartered in Amarillo, as a junior analyst.

She believes she’s returned to normal health. Iwana, once with stage 4 bladder cancer, is essentially cancer free. And Anastasia now drives a red Lexus 350.

Mother and daughter will both remember this Dec. 11. Her and her parents have a 10-day trip to Italy planned not long after the anniversary of the wreck.

It’s been an eventful year, and the kindness and gratitude of WTAMU business professors, is not lost and won’t ever be forgotten.

Do you know of a student, faculty member, project, an alumnus or any other story idea for “WT: The Heart and Soul of the Texas Panhandle?” If so, email Jon Mark Beilue at jbeilue@wtamu.edu.

 

To see more Jon Mark Beilue's columns, visit wtamu.edu/beilue.

 

 

—WTAMU—


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Almadelfina De Leon.
on 12.6.2018

This story is amazing. It just made me think in the special and caring our instructors are. Everyone in this university seems like they really want us to be successful students. I'm glad to be a student of this university, but overall, I am so proud to be a buff! BIG THANKS TO ALL MY INSTRUCTORS!