Michigan Cerebral Palsy Attorneys is happy to announce that Michael Gilmore is the winner of the fourth annual Achievements and Abilities scholarship. Michael is a student at Texas A&M School of Law and he is a Certified Public Accountant. In his essay, Michael reflects on his life with cerebral palsy, his experience as an accountant, and his journey towards a career in law. Michael hopes to use his life experiences to help future clients better their own lives.
To learn more about Michael, read his winning essay below:
My entire life has been defined by the subtle difference in being better or being normal. At certain times, I wished for nothing more than normal. For most of my life, I didn’t understand the benefit of being better. Like every person who has cerebral palsy, I have always had and continue to have cerebral palsy. When I was in elementary school, I spent a lot of time in doctor’s offices, occupational therapy, physical therapy, and hospitals. I would be lying if I said all of that was a bad experience. I learned to type and swim through occupational therapy, both skills I am grateful to have today. However, there were countless days in the hospital wishing the pain would go away, and countless comments directed at me because of how I walk, which made me wish I would go away.
Through every one of those experiences, and some I no longer remember, my parents stood by me. In most cases, most of the real effort was done by them. My mom drove me to countless doctors’ appointments, surgeries, and therapist visits. My parents would not let me be alone in the hospital, so my mom stayed with me during the day, while my dad slept in the room with me all night. Sadly, I never thought of what my siblings were doing during those times, or what they gave up so I could have a chance to walk better. Everyone sacrificed for me so I could function better. Not function or walk “normally,” just better.
I am grateful for the sacrifices my family made for me to be better. For what I am most grateful, however, is that my family never let my cerebral palsy define who I was or who I could become. My mom would tell me of one doctor who said, “Michael may not be a ditch digger, but he can be the boss.” My parents made sure I had every academic opportunity they could find. My dad ensured I knew how to use a computer to the point where I could program a computer. My mom never allowed me to become bitter at my lot in life and instead taught me to get up when I fell down and to help those who could not get up themselves.
Over the years, I had a number of doors closed on me because of cerebral palsy. As those doors closed, I was forced to focus on the options that were available where I could succeed. I majored in accounting, graduated from college, and started a career. Many people do those types of things because they want to. I did them because it was one of the only paths left open for me.
Throughout my career, my cerebral palsy has been both present and obvious. I still trip and fall from time to time. It is humiliating. After such episodes, I hobble back to my desk wishing I could walk like a “normal” man. My shoes are normally scuffed. I walk toe-heel, and as a result, my shoes take a beating on a daily basis. As I progressed in my career, I reached a high level of management in several construction companies, and I remembered what my mom said the doctor had told her: “Michael may not be a ditch digger, but he can be the boss.”
I had always dreamed of going to law school, and when I reached a crossroads in my accounting career, I was torn on whether to continue as an accountant or quit working and attend law school. After much deliberation, I decided to stay in accounting. I went on an interview with the owner of another construction company. The company was in a difficult situation, but it was a situation with which I was well equipped to deal. The interview went well, and we took a tour of several construction yards. The owner wanted to show me where my office would potentially be. It was up a flight of stairs, and there was no elevator access. After all the walking, the owner seemed to consider the flight of stairs a serious problem for me, although I did not see the problem myself. The owner bluntly asked me what was wrong with my legs. I smiled and answered the question, and we went to see what I thought was going to be my new office. Leaving the interview, I was confident an offer would be forthcoming. I spoke with the outside recruiter several times, and he told me hands down I was the front runner and most qualified candidate. Nevertheless, I didn’t get the job, and based on the disdain in the owner’s voice when he asked me what was wrong with my legs, I know it was because of my cerebral palsy.
After finding out I did not get the job, I came home and was visibly disappointed. My wife came into the office and told me in no uncertain terms the company who rejected me wasn’t worth thinking about and that I needed to go to law school. While I cannot manipulate others into accepting my handicap or wish the handicap away, I continue to “better” myself even if I’ll never be what they consider “normal.”
I now spend my days studying any number of things, from Rule 12(b)(6) to the rule against perpetuities to joint liability. About halfway through my Torts class, I began to reflect on the cases I was reading, in particular the people who had been hurt. I realized the people in the cases are real people, with families, friends, hopes, and dreams. I also realized the people in the cases were in real pain, both physically and emotionally. I remembered what I had been taught when I was younger, that I should help those who cannot get up themselves. The people I was reading about had fallen down, not literally but rather, in life.
In my Torts class one case stood out more than any other. A construction worker was struck by a car and hurled into a of container of boiling enamel. The barricades the construction company put up along the road were inadequate. The driver of the car was also clearly at fault. The legal we discussed in class was one of joint liability.
If I was honest, I have forgotten much of this case. But I often think about that construction worker and his family. He was horribly burned and injured. He recovered monetarily for his injuries. But I doubt he wanted the money. He most likely just wanted a “normal” life.
Falling down takes a lot of forms. For some, it is employment discrimination, for others, it is being exploited through an unfair contract. And for others its being the victim of a crime or having an abusive spouse. Some are thrown in to containers of boiling enamel, while others just want access to services so their child can walk “better.”
I don’t know for certain the problems or pains my future clients will have. However, I hope what I have gained, and to some degree lost, through cerebral palsy, can impact my clients such that their life is better, in spite of the fact that I may not be “normal.”