PLATTSBURGH — Michaela Bushey may not have command over the movement of her legs, but the 21-year-old still manages to take command of nearly 115 high-school students.
From her wheelchair, Bushey conducted Plattsburgh High School’s mixed chorus in a rendition of Rollo Dilworth’s “Take Me to the Water” during their Winter Concert Monday night.
Her conducting, which earned her a standing ovation from the crowd gathered in the school’s auditorium, marked the completion of both her time as a student teacher at Plattsburgh and her bachelor’s degree in music education from Ithaca College.
The accomplishment comes less than a year and a half after a diving accident tragically and suddenly left the AuSable native paralyzed from the neck down.
Despite Bushey’s severe spinal-cord injury, giving up on herself and her dreams of a college degree was simply not an option.
Before the accident, Bushey was pursuing a double major at Ithaca in vocal performance and music education.
But because her injury left her unable to control her breath and voice projection, Bushey made the difficult decision to abandon her vocal major.
But with her mother at her side, Bushey returned to Ithaca just months after her accident to complete her music-education degree.
“When I kind of decided I wanted to go back to school so soon, I wasn’t sure how long it would take me or how I would handle it, but it’s been really, really good,” she said.
NERVOUS AT START
In mid-September, Bushey began student teaching in PHS Choral Director William Verity’s chorus, Music in Our Lives and music theory classes to fulfill the final requirement of her degree.
“I was so nervous about it in the beginning, and I really didn’t know how things were going to go or what it was going to be like,” Bushey said.
But with tremendous dedication, Verity said, Bushey over came her insecurities.
“She’s such a stubborn person and such a perfectionist,” he said. “She worked really hard to work out the nervousness and to be confident, and the kids have loved her from day one.”
Bushey’s hard work has also paid off physically, as she has regained muscle control in her arms, some fingers and a toe. And just before Thanksgiving, Bushey said, she gained control of a muscle in her right hip.
“My arms continue to get stronger, and I’m hoping to be in a manual chair as soon as I can. So that’s one of my biggest goals, I guess, for the upcoming year, is to get myself into a manual wheelchair rather than a power chair.”
Bushey’s students say they have seen her make progress with her rehabilitation in the short time she’s been with them.
“In the beginning, it was kind of harder for her to move her arms and stuff to conduct, and she was a lot of times tired, but now she’s actually very energetic, and she can move her arms and conduct us a lot better,” said student Maggee Gates.
Verity explained that during her lectures, Bushey was able to project lessons onto the board using a computer. She then manipulated the content on the board using a computerized slate in her lap.
In addition to teaching her students their music lessons, Verity said, Bushey’s obvious inner strength and positive attitude taught them valuable lessons about what’s really important in life.
“Having her in our school really touched the kids,” he said.
STEP BY STEP
Now that she has completed her degree, Bushey said she will be able to devote more time to her rehabilitation.
“It’s really, really, really slow, but every day is a little bit more,” she said of her recovery.
And though she’s not certain in what capacity she will be teaching in the future, it’s something she would like to continue doing.
“I’m not exactly sure what I will teach, in the sense that I don’t know if I would end up going back to an elementary setting or if I would continue with high school or even if I’m going to teach music or not.
“The plan is kind of take it one step at a time and pursue a master’s degree, at some point, (and) continue with therapy, so that’s kind of, I guess, the overall sense of where I want to go.”