- by Mount Saint Mary College
Hanna Sheppard walking across the stage at Mount Saint Mary College's spring 2016 Commencement.

About 14 years ago, Hanna Sheppard suffered a major spinal cord injury. At the Mount's 53 annual Commencement (above), she walked across the stage unaided.

Alumna Hanna Sheppard '16, a Client Services associate for Morgan Stanley, took an extraordinary path to her seemingly ordinary life. 

About 14 years ago, Sheppard dove into her pool from the middle, hit the concrete head-on, and cracked her C5 vertebra in half. Were it not for her younger brother, she would have drowned. 

However, the accident was just a new beginning for the determined young woman. Much of Sheppard's right hand and right leg remain partially paralyzed, but it's become much less of an obstacle over the years. 

As a freshman in 2012, she walked to class aided by crutches. As a senior in 2016, she walked across the Commencement stage unaided. Today, she can be found working out at her local gym on her own. 

After graduating from the Mount, she earned an MBA in Finance from Southern New Hampshire University in 2019. And recently, she had been advocating for spinal cord injury awareness, including serving as an ambassador for The Christopher and Dana Reeve Foundation.

About a year ago, Sheppard reconnected with Lawrence T. Force, a Psychology professor at the Mount and director of the college's Center on Aging and Disability Policy. Force's son, Patrick, suffered a spinal cord injury in 2019. In response, the Force Recovery Foundation was created to be present for individuals and family members on the spinal cord recovery path. The foundation can be found online at 

Force was one of many people at the Mount who Sheppard said helped to shape her into the successful professional she is today. 

"I am so grateful and thankful that I went to the Mount," she said. "It gave me my best friends and I still think about my professors. Every professor I had molded me in some positive way."

Even after getting to know her injury over the years, sometimes there are still surprises, Sheppard said. Most recently, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, working from home afforded Sheppard a respite from some of the issues she lives with on a daily basis. 

But by moving around less, she began to lose much of the progress she had made. It took about four months of early morning gym visits to get back to the point where walking wasn't extremely painful, she noted. 

However, while it's certainly a big part of her life, Sheppard's injury does not define who she is.

"My spinal cord injury doesn't affect the big picture," Sheppard noted. "It affects my everyday life – it's hard to walk, it's hard to do everything, but I still do it."

She added, "Sometimes people are so, so quick to throw in the towel with anything that's hard. But never stop trying, never give up."


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