It has been said that “a promise is a promise” and though it took Troy Cornutt ’17 BA 34 years, a promise to his parents to earn his degree has finally been realized. On Saturday, May 13, 2017, he crossed the stage at UIW’s Spring Commencement and officially completed the journey he began so long ago, earning his bachelor’s degree in Business Administration.
Cornutt’s journey to keep that promise began in 1983. It took many detours along the way. Life can do that. Hailing from a middle-income family hit hard by a recession, he knew his parents would be unable to help with the cost of college, so he tried to qualify for a student loan. When he could not qualify on his own, not wanting his parents to incur more debt, he decided to join the Navy. “I knew my parents had always wanted me to get a degree, so when I told them about the Navy, I prefaced it with my promise to one day finish my education,” said Cornutt.
He joined in August of 1983, went to boot camp and initial aviation maintenance school and was sent overseas to the Philippines. Cornutt spent seven years in Asia, got picked for flight duty and thoroughly enjoyed his job as a loadmaster/crew chief. He met his wife, Roni while both were stationed in the Philippines. They began dating in the early 1990s when they were stationed in San Diego, Calif. and eventually married. It was during this time he began taking college level courses.
“I wasn’t able to get serious about it. The internet wasn’t available yet, and I was deployed almost constantly. The military was different back then, they didn’t give time for studies. I took old school correspondence courses and attended classes at a community college,” he said. Cornutt retired in 2003, having reached the rank of E-7 and the position of Navy Chief.
After retiring, Cornutt began a successful management career and enjoyed living life with his wife, three children and two grandchildren.
Then, on April 18, 2014, his world changed forever. “After three years of inconclusive tests, incorrect diagnosis and conjecture, the diagnosis of ALS (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis) hit home like a ton of bricks,” he said. “By December 2014, I began having issues walking and talking. I found myself with hours and hours of free time and nothing to do to keep busy. The insidious thing about ALS is that it only affects a person’s muscles. The body withers, but the mind is unaffected. I decided to attempt to complete my degree to give myself a goal and something to look forward to.”
Cornutt began his UIW career in the Fall II 2015 term on October 19, 2015 joining the university as a junior. “To say I am a non-traditional student is an understatement. I originally wanted a business degree. UIW offered those classes, and I liked the overall ease I felt once I began. The veteran programs coordinator made it easy for me to apply my GI Bill. I felt comfortable within the system.”
Because of ALS, Cornutt was only able to take online courses. “I had to coordinate through student disability services and my professors to ensure that I had enough time to take tests, but for the most part I didn’t need any accommodations. Everyone was very willing to work with me to alleviate issues and give me a first-class education.”
Since his diagnosis, ALS has robbed Cornutt of his ability to speak and walk and he can only type with two fingers. He uses a special computer that speaks for him. He also uses a wheelchair that he swears “can beat any one of you in a foot race.”
“ALS challenges me every day,” said Cornutt. Though he stresses “I refuse to be defined by it.”
Although Cornutt’s father has passed away, his mom has been supportive through the entire journey. She is proud and happy to see his dream and promise to them fulfilled.
When asked what’s next, 52-year-old Cornutt said: “I’m enjoying time with my family. Doing a little traveling and generally kicking back and enjoying the time that I have left. The life expectancy of people with ALS is three-to-five years from diagnosis and there is no cure. My motto through it all has been, ‘Get on with life or life will get along without you.’”
Graduation day was a good day. Cornutt’s family beamed with pride and cheered as the summa cum laude graduate crossed the stage to collect his hard-earned degree and fulfill his long-awaited promise to his parents.
Story by Margaret Garcia
Photos by Steve Holloway