No matter who you are, it takes a lot of grit, determination, and hard work to earn your college degree. But what Alex Shelton ’17 has accomplished is something else entirely.

Nine years after suffering a traumatic brain injury that almost killed him, Shelton graduated from Illinois State University this month with a degree in psychology. He was a sophomore at Illinois State back in 2008 when he slept-walk off a balcony while on a leadership retreat in Mexico. Doctors told his parents he may not survive, much less walk or intellectually recover.

But after years of rehab, Shelton bravely returned to Illinois State in 2014 to resume his degree. You may have seen him on campus over the past three years, walking across the Quad with his cane and big smile. It wasn’t easy, and it wasn’t quick, but he did it: Shelton, now 29, walked across the stage at the College of Arts and Sciences commencement on May 12.

“Why give up? It makes no sense. I don’t see any sense in giving up,” said Shelton, a Dunlap native. “Because you’ve got to keep pushing to your ultimate goal, and my ultimate goal was getting my degree, so that’s what I did.”

Shelton hopes to get a job working in a school setting, or even working with dogs. (One of his favorite experiences since returning to ISU has been working with Psychology Professor Valeri Farmer-Dougan at Illinois State’s Canine Behavior and Cognition Laboratory.)

His mother, Tammy Shelton, said she was happy but a little worried when Alex decided to return to ISU. He had to basically re-learn how to learn. Before the accident, Shelton’s mind was a “steel trap” and he never had to study to excel at school, he said. But the accident rewired Shelton’s brain, and he had to study way more than ever before.

He’s also thankful for support he received from Illinois State’s Student Access and Accommodation Services office, which provides accommodation services for students and guests with disabilities.

“These past three years have been challenging, difficult, but very rewarding at the same time because I know he’s moving forward and I know he is going to do whatever he sets his mind to,” Tammy Shelton said. “He’s very determined and he’s going to do whatever he sets his mind to.”

Watch the video above to learn more about Shelton. You can also watch our first video about his return to ISU, produced in 2014.