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Sutherland Not One to Give Up, Even
After Suspension and Multiple Sclerosis

Date: June 7, 2002
By: Marianne Kunnen-Jones
Phone: (513) 556-1826
Photos By: Dottie Stover
Archive: Campus News

Joy Sutherland is a member of the Class of 2002 who had the odds stacked up against her. Despite the hurdles she had to overcome, she has overcome the adversities that life has thrown her way. In fact, she flunked out one quarter and was placed on a one-year academic suspension. Nevertheless, her Commencement is a story of success and determination.

Joy Sutherland

A GED recipient who never got to attend a high school graduation, this single mother of two sons was not about to miss out on another graduation. A member of a family who knows success, Sutherland knew "that the sky was the limit. " With a brother who serves as WB's Judge Mathis on TV, another brother who has opened a charter school, two brothers who are entrepreneurs in their own right, and a sister who has a successful catering business, Sutherland knew that education was the key to her future success. She was not about to let one quarter's worth of poor grades halt her plans to obtain a college degree. That has been her goal since she enrolled at UC in 1995.

The failing grades came in the mail in 1999, at about the same time she learned the reason for them. She had not realized until a doctor diagnosed her that she had multiple sclerosis, a chronic and often disabling disease that has no cure.

Symptoms of the disorder can come and go and take different forms. For some, the condition may be mild with numbness in the limbs. For others, it can be severe, with paralysis or loss of vision. For Sutherland, her primary signals have been exhaustion and difficulty walking and standing. Because of this, you may often see her using a cane to remain upright.

"I had equilibrium problems, and they told me I was hyperventilating. But I knew I wasn't. And I kept falling. I switched doctors. That's when I got the diagnosis," she says.

When the letter informing her of her academic suspension arrived, she took the news in stride and channeled her year free of classes into brushing up her math skills with the help of the Jewish Vocational Services (JVS).

As soon as she was allowed to, she returned to UC. "School is a must, " Sutherland attests. "More so because I am not married, so I have to get a higher formal education." Her primary motivation is her children: Rajon, 8, and Joshua, 5.

Throughout her struggles, Sutherland says, she has always found an ally in Gail Stocker in the McMicken College of Arts and Sciences Advising Center.

"She was fabulous. Whenever I had a lot of problems, she did her job to the utmost. I never have an appointment when I come in there to see her. But she takes me right away," says Sutherland, adding that Stocker can sometimes giggle like she does. "But I thought she was going cry when I told her I was graduating."

Sutherland's disabling condition has made it difficult and sometimes impossible for her to pursue one of her favorite activities - dancing. She continues to serve as coordinator for ISIS-D (Intelligent Sisters In Spirit of Dance) troupe at UC with her mentor, associate professor Ken Ghee of psychology. Despite her difficulties, she continues to get as much exercise as possible and works out at the Fitworks Fitness Center. The combination of her debilitating illness with her attempts to work out has opened her eyes to a new career plan. She would like to open fitness centers that are geared to people with handicaps and disabilities.

Before she can do that, however, she will need more education. Sutherland plans to relocate to Atlanta in the fall of 2003. There, she will work on her master's in sports exercise psychology at the Georgia School of Professional Psychology. "MS and cold weather don't agree with me", she explains.

Sutherland, a 33-year-old resident of Pleasant Ridge, will earn her bachelor's degree in psychology at UC's Commencement June 7, she will also celebrate her graduation at the McMicken College of Art's and Sciences ceremony and Tyehimba, a ceremony sponsored by Ethnic Programs and Services.

As graduation day drew closer, Sutherland's jubilation shone through the exhaustion she feels as a result of the MS. "Every week I call my sister and tell her I'm graduating, I did it. It is the most exuberating experience I've felt in a long time to be able to graduate."

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