For the past three years, Zac Bradley has been one of the most visible students on the Clayton State University campus, and not because he’s in a wheelchair.
No, the reason for Bradley’s notoriety is because he symbolizes everything great about Clayton State and its students, including their ability to overcome adversity and make their dreams real.
In part because of his accomplishments, Bradley was the speaker at the 9 a.m. ceremony for Clayton State’s fall Commencement on Saturday, Dec. 13. The speaker at the noon ceremony, Dr. Holly Chatham, is a Clayton State graduate has also made Clayton State proud over the years, following a unique path in the diverse fields of music, business and professional speaking.
Bradley is a native of Riverdale, Ga., who began his studies at Clayton State in fall 2010. Having lettered four seasons in basketball at North Clayton High School, Bradley was a point guard for the Laker men’s basketball team in the 2010/2011 season.
However, Bradley’s life changed dramatically in May 2011. While leaving the Clayton State campus during a thunderstorm, a tree fell on his car, entrapping him. Bradley was transported to Grady Memorial Hospital where he underwent multiple surgeries on his brain, neck and spinal cord. After months of therapy, he returned to Clayton State to continue pursuing his degree in Health and Fitness Management. As noted, during the past three years, he has become one of the most visible, active and well-known people on campus, serving as a Laker Orientation Leader, member of Student African American Brotherhood, and secretary of the Golden Key International Honor Society. In the community, he is a volunteer mentor at the Shepherd Center and is also a wheelchair rugby player of some renown. On Saturday, Bradley graduated to a standing ovation in the Athletics Center where he once played for the Lakers, magna cum laude, with his Bachelor of Science degree.
Prior to receiving his diploma, Bradley told his fellow graduates that, while his dream was made real today, that, “everyone here in a cap and gown has had their dreams made real.”
In Bradley’s case, that dream was a promise he made to his parents nine years ago, that he would earn a scholarship and graduate from college. He did indeed, and although Bradley has not been able to participate on the Laker basketball team since 2011, he has remained on scholarship and a part of the team. Fittingly, and movingly, two of the individuals responsible for Bradley’s dream made real were present at the ceremony; his coach, former Clayton State men’s basketball coach Gordon Gibbons, and retired Clayton State Athletic Director Mason Barfield.
“What do you do when adversity occurs in your life?” asked Bradley during his commencement address. “You do not know how strong you are until being strong is the only option you have. Strong people take adversity and build on it. Each of you is striving for greatness because you all could have given up long ago.”
Not surprisingly, Bradley has been called an inspiration by many who know his story of coming back from being paralyzed from the chest down to resuming his college career and graduating with honors. However, his own take on being an inspiration was directed to his fellow graduates.
“I want you to be certain that you are an inspiration,” he said in closing. “Continue to make your dreams real.”
Chatham, who holds a Bachelor of Music degree from Clayton State, is currently associate director of Strategic Research and a national meeting speaker at the Education Advisory Board (EAB), a higher education research and consulting firm. Prior to her work at EAB, she taught in the highly selective Master's vocal program at Yale University and was director of music at Marymount School New York and at Christ Church in Summit, N.J. She has also worked as a commodities broker in New York.
Alongside her academic and administrative career, Chatham is a sought-after concert harpsichordist and pianist, performing at countless concert halls and festivals throughout the U.S., U.K. and Mexico, including the Weill Recital Hall at Carnegie Hall and Alice Tully Hall at Lincoln Center. She was artistic co-director for the critically-acclaimed ensemble Reconstruction, harpsichordist for the ground-breaking ensemble Bimbetta (honored by Chamber Music America as one of the ensembles to have changed the face of chamber music in the U.S.), and pianist in the Chatham-Wood Duo with violinist Patrick Wood Uribe. Her debut recording was released on the MSR Classics label.
Her advice to the graduates fit in well with Bradley’s address and his life story.
“I realized my story and path through life are original and unique. Each of your story lines are original and unique,” she said. “You have a plan, but you don’t know how that plan may change.
“Always continue to expand the depth and breadth of your expertise and skills (because) none of us can see the path ahead, none of us can see the future.”