Returning to College

After the shooting incident I was hospitalized for seven months and a speech therapist would come into my hospital room and repeat three words to me. Blue, bed, sock.  They asked me to repeat them back, but my brain simply would not allow me to do so.  No matter how hard I tried, I could not retain the information, even for a few seconds.  My speech therapists continued to work with me for the next two-and-half years where they focused on improving my cognitive, memory, and executive functioning and scheduling skills as well as improve my scheduling abilities as well.  Simultaneously improving both the mental aspect and the physical aspect of  my recovery helped my brain rewire itself, make new mind-body connections, and this was the first stepping stone for me to overcome paralysis.


Nolan McDonnell
In adaptive P.E. My first time on my hands and knees.

Eventually, after overcoming my upper body paralysis, I was able to begin my journey back into education, starting with learning how to construct letters and numbers.  For the next two and a half years, I worked tirelessly towards this goal in the hope that I could finally return to school and reach my goals.  The bullet had robbed me of so much time, but I refused to let it take away my grand aspirations.  For the foreseeable future, I continued to do therapy sessions at a facility called the Timpany Center, which was designed to rehabilitate those with disabilities and was run by student interns.  Even though I had dropped out of school after my injury, it felt encouraging to know that I had never really left the academic environment.  One of the students who helped to run the center was called Colby and he suggested that I should take online classes in advertising, as he had noticed the substantial growth in my social media following.  I took his advice and enrolled in the class, while noticing that another of my four-year university requirements was also available online, so I registered for that too.



Nolan McDonnell

By the time the quarter ended, I had received A grades in both classes and had overcome whatever learning anxiety I had felt at first.  My brain was rewiring itself back into the academic routine and I was adapting even better than I had expected.  At this point, I contacted my counsellor and asked what other classes I would need in order to qualify for the four-year university, to which she replied that I would need critical thinking in groups, geology, statistics, and intercultural communications.


This came as a major blow to me.  The same part of my brain that struggled to retain and manipulate information was also in charge of mathematics.  For the past three years, therapists had been trying to teach me basic things like counting money, adding, subtracting, and more.  If I struggled with these simple tasks, how would I ever be able to grasp something like statistics?  After voicing my concerns, my counsellor recommended a professor who I readily contacted and explained my situation.  His reply eased my worries, ensuring me that each exam had a three-day time limit and that everything would be okay.

On my first day, I was put into a group with four straight-A students and were aiming to attend colleges such as Berkeley and Stanford.  Not only did we do our day-to-day work in these groups, but we also did our exams as a five-person team too.  Thanks to my group and quality professor, I ended statistics with a 96% to go along with my 97% in critical thinking.  Not bad for what I had assumed to be my hardest subjects.

Nolan McDonnell



Thanks to a woeful stint at De Anza College in my past, my near-perfect GPA from my days at the College of the Desert plummeted to a 2.0.  I simply could not afford to have a bad quarter if I hoped to achieve my dreams.  I ended up signing an academic renewal, ensuring that my lowest quarter grades were removed from my transcript, before getting straight A’s upon my return in the new quarter, dragging my GPA up to 3.33.  This was essential for any hopes of transferring to a four-year university.


Nolan McDonnell

By the end of the summer of 2020, I worked closely with my counsellor in order to transfer to a university, taking online courses to avoid the day-to-day troubles of getting around campus.  I also needed a flexible schedule in order to make various therapy appointments, as well as being able to take classes at my own pace.  One day, in conversation with my counsellor, she suggested that she should contact Arizona State University to ask about financial aid.  This got me thinking more about Arizona State and I asked them to give me a call sometime.  The very next day, they did just that.  We immediately started to work out a custom education plan for my communication degree and I received an admissions packet to kickstart the process.  With a GPA of 3.3, Arizona claimed there would be no problem with me getting in. With that said, after I applied, and weeks of waiting anxiously, I just got the notification that I was accepted to ASU where I will finish my bachelors degree and then pursue my masters.



nolan mcdonnell

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