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Florida university graduates share inspiring personal stories

Florida State University's Charlie Doane lives with hemiplegic cerebral palsy that affects his right side and plans to continue advocating for people with disabilities in his career at Nike. (Contributed to Fresh Take Florida)
Florida State University's Charlie Doane lives with hemiplegic cerebral palsy that affects his right side and plans to continue advocating for people with disabilities in his career at Nike. (Contributed to Fresh Take Florida)

GAINESVILLE, Fla. –  One had been a homeless, high school dropout. Another overcame a serious disability. Another just learned English a few years ago. Graduates of Florida's universities share their inspiring personal stories as they walk across the stage with their diplomas this month.

Here are the stories of a few notable graduates from around the state.

‘Champions adjust’

Charlie Doane lives his life using only one hand. For him, every challenge is an opportunity to adapt. 

Doane, 22, has hemiplegic cerebral palsy that affects his right side. He doesn’t let his disability define him, he said. He has become an advocate.

As he graduates from Florida State University this month with a degree in business management, he will soon step into a consumer creations operations role at Nike – a company whose shoes changed his life.

Those shoes were Nike’s Flyease line, which have Velcro that allows individuals with disabilities to put on their own shoes. 

“Those shoes changed my life because it gave me a sense of independence that I never felt before,” Doane said. “I knew from that moment that I truly wanted to work at the company and help people with disabilities get better shoes.” 

He hopes to advocate for people with disabilities at Nike, continuing his advocacy at FSU.

He befriended a beach volleyball player at Florida State, and the two formed the Champions Adjust Run Club, an organization that raises disability awareness and focuses on teamwork. 

The organization’s namesake stems from an interaction with tennis legend Billy Jean King. She asked Doane what sport he played, and he responded that he can’t play sports. King answered: “Well, Charlie, champions adjust.” That phrase has become his life motto.

His efforts at FSU earned him the Humanitarian of the Year Award for the college of business last year. He considers it among his most memorable moments in Tallahassee.

Doane said he refuses to let his cerebral palsy limit his potential.

“When bad things happen to you, you have three choices,” Doane said. “You can let it define you, you can let it destroy you or you can let it strengthen you. I always choose option three.” 

A life of learning

Stephen Boling was once a homeless, high school dropout, but this month he earns his doctorate in nursing from the University of Florida.

This will be the 55-year-old veteran’s sixth degree but his first doctorate. He has spent time at Florida International University and Nova Southeastern University, but his greatest academic walk has been at UF, he said.

Currently living in Miami, Boling is enrolled in the UF College of Nursing online doctoral program. He is a father to five daughters and embarking on his second career. 

“I take care of all my girls and I do my best to model for them because I want them to see how important education is,” he said. 

Boling enlisted in the Marines in 1986, later joining the Army to become a combat medic.

“I always liked helping people,” Boling said. “I always try to lead. I run to trouble; I don’t run away from trouble.” 

When he retired from the military in 2013, Boling had already earned two undergraduate degrees and a graduate degree. He wasn’t finished. 

His next steps took him to FIU, where he earned his bachelor’s of science in nursing. Then he went to Nova where he became a psychiatric mental health nurse practitioner. Instead of being a nurse in the field, Boling continued his education at UF. 

As a Gator, he worked on a research project called Rap-Cd Training for Primary Care Providers, a lesson plan he developed with a mentor and associate dean, Rene Love, regarding youth suicide prevention.

He might not be done with school yet.

“I still got my eye on achieving one more degree,” Boling said. “I’m not certain if it’s going to be a PhD after this or it’s going to be a Juris Doctorate in law.” 

From Brazil to Princeton 

Ana Claus first learned English six years ago when she moved to the U.S. Now, she is graduating from Florida International University to begin her doctoral studies at Princeton in the fall.

Claus, 26, earned an undergraduate degree in mechanical engineering. She leaves FIU with a multitude of research experiences, including a seawater battery project that represented the North American region in a global competition. 

Claus always knew she wanted to study engineering, but that wasn’t always possible. 

Before she moved to the U.S., she lived in Brazil and worked at an office supply store to save money for college. She took night classes and studied business because it was cheaper than an engineering degree. 

She moved in with her aunt in Tallahassee and took English classes at Florida State University. A quick learner, Claus took an English test and scored well enough to enroll in community college. When her aunt decided to move to Miami, Claus followed and began her studies at FIU.

“Everything wasn’t really planned out,” Claus said. “I was just doing my best and trying to find opportunities to keep studying here.” 

She volunteered in a lab, then as a research assistant, when she discovered an interest in working with batteries. She worked to find a PhD program to pursue that research dream.

She was accepted into Princeton University’s PhD program in mechanical and aerospace engineering, where she plans to continue research with energy storage and batteries. 

Claus is one of FIU’s Real Triumphs Graduates, an accolade for which professors nominated her. 

“One thing I really enjoy about this country is whenever you put effort or whenever you really want to learn something, there are opportunities out there,” Claus said. “People really recognize your work, and doors just open when you work hard.”


This story was produced by Fresh Take Florida, a news service of the University of Florida College of Journalism and Communications. The reporter can be reached at emmabehrmann@freshtakeflorida.com. You can donate to support our students here.

Emma is a reporter for WUFT News who can be reached by calling 352-392-6397 or emailing news@wuft.org.