Michael Darling '86: Inspiring Student Honors His Professor
Michael Darling '86 is continually amazed when others think he's done something special with his life. After all, what's so special about graduating from high school, then graduating from college, getting married, having a career, and eventually retiring?
What's special is that, what others see as obstacles, Michael treats simply as facts of life.
Michael was diagnosed with cerebral palsy at the age of six. Doctors at the time recommended that his parents, June and Andy Darling, place Michael in institutional care. It was obvious to the care providers that the best thing his parents could do would be to sit Michael in front of a TV all day.
This was not his parents' conclusion. Michael's mother became his advocate as they negotiated the public school system (years before the passage of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990). She fought to get him out of "special ed" classes and into regular classrooms. Michael always had the ability to verbalize, but his cerebral palsy prevented him from writing.
As much as Michael's parents supported his right to an education, they thought graduation from high school would be the end of his formal education.
Michael, however, had other plans.
A Will to Succeed
He enrolled at Minneapolis Community College, only telling his parents on the first day of class. Michael did well academically. Navigating access to classrooms and faculty offices was a different story; often very difficult, if not downright impossible.
"One day I had to explain why I was late for class," he related, laughing. "I'd been using my (motorized) wheelchair all term to push open a glass door to the library, but on that day, the glass shattered! I finally had to drive across broken glass to make it to class."
Learning that Augsburg had a much more accessible campus, as well as other support programs, Michael transferred after one year. "It's difficult to explain how much more open, accepting and accommodating everyone at Augsburg is to someone in a wheelchair."
At the time, one of Augsburg's graduation requirements was proficiency in a foreign language —reading, speaking and writing —the latter of which Michael was physically incapable of mastering. "It took some doing," recalls Michael, "but the College agreed to an accommodation for this requirement. Instead, I took a course in Chinese culture."
Following graduation, Michael worked at Courage Center, counseling clients and their parents. He retired several years ago, and currently lives in Edina with his wife, Dottie.
Giving Back Is a No-Brainer
When Michael began formulating his estate plans, he decided to include Augsburg through a bequest in his will. "After everything Augsburg did for me," says Michael, "it's a bit of a no-brainer to give something back."
Through consultation with one of Augsburg's gift planning staff, Charlie Green, Michael learned he could honor his advisor and mentor, Professor Duane Johnson, while also supporting the College. "Professor Johnson encouraged me throughout my time at Augsburg, and this is one way I can say ‘Thank you!' to him."
As a result, a portion of Michael's bequest will be added to the Ruth E. & Duane E. Johnson Psychology Scholarship Endowment Fund; the remainder of the bequest is unrestricted to be used at the discretion of the Board of Regents.
"I'm so pleased that Augsburg has continued its tradition of making its campus accessible to students with physical challenges...and I can't wait to try out the new skyways!"
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