Jelani Murshid-Jackson wears a colorful African scarf around his neck Saturday afternoon at UMSL's commencement. He earned a bachelor's degree in liberal studies. Part of a family tradition, the scarf has been worn by his grandmother and two sisters at their college graduations.

Jelani Murshid-Jackson never let an obstacle stand in his way.

“It’s the biggest lesson I’ve learned in life. Don’t let obstacles ever stop you from reaching your goals,” he said shortly before his graduation ceremony Saturday at the University of Missouri–St. Louis.

And now the 25-year-old is looking for a career where he can show people like him exactly how it gets done.

Diagnosed with cerebral palsy at birth, Murshid-Jackson didn’t speak until he was 4 years old and underwent three life-threatening brain surgeries by the time he was 10. The operations left him visually impaired. Despite seemingly insurmountable physical and learning disabilities, he reached one of his major goals: graduation.

“It took a lot of work, but it was all good,” he said. He sat in an electric wheel chair at the Mark Twain Athletic & Fitness Center waiting for graduation ceremonies to begin. His grandmother, Subira Murshid, stood nearby as she’s done since his mother died 23 years ago.

“He made the dean’s list this year,” the grandmother said.

“And I’m proud of that,” the grandson quickly added.

Murshid-Jackson grew up in Rock Hill, Mo., attended Webster Groves (Mo.) schools and went to college at the University of Central Missouri in Warrensburg. According to his grandmother, he came back to St. Louis because his family could not find a personal care aide for him.

He transferred to UMSL in 2009 and moved into an apartment at the University Meadows Apartments on South Campus. He was able to find a personal care aide who came to his apartment each day to help him get ready for classes. UMSL shuttle buses got him to and from classes and his apartment.

With triple minors in social work, sociology and communication, Murshid-Jackson had a very busy schedule. In class, students would take notes for him and then tutors helped him memorize those notes. He worked late into the night.

“He’d be working right up until he went to sleep,” said Robert Glass, a student notetaker and friend. “He’s one of the most determined people I have ever known.”

That determination earned him a bachelor’s degree in liberal studies. His goal to be an independent living specialist to help others with disabilities is moving toward reality. Subira Murshid said Jelani has received support from Vocational Rehabilitation Services for the Blind throughout college, and they will continue helping him fulfill his career goals.

Visit the St. Louis Post-Dispatch and KTVI (Channel 2) for additional coverage of the commencement ceremony and celebration with Jelani’s family and friends.

Maureen Zegel

Maureen Zegel