Grad travels tough road to degree

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Christie Cyktor understands she may need a little help now and then, but she says she's not alone.

"Everyone needs a little help at times," said Miss Cyktor of West Newton, who was among more than 300 students to receive diplomas Saturday at Saint Vincent College's 167th commencement ceremony.

For Miss Cyktor, however, asking for help is something that she has had to do at times since she was born with arthrogryposis, a condition that has weakened her joints and muscles so severely that she must use an electric wheelchair.

"I try not to think about it," said the 22-year-old Miss Cyktor, who majored in biochemistry and plans to go to West Virginia University to obtain a master's degree in forensic science.

At Saint Vincent, Miss Cyktor was known for maintaining a bright smile as she zipped around the campus in her wheelchair, spending most of her time at classes and laboratories in the university's new Sis and Herman Dupre Science Pavilion.

"Even though construction was under way during the past several years, I didn't let a little mud, muck or rock slow me down," she said. "Saint Vincent has been great about making sure that I have a normal college experience."

At graduation, she used a specially constructed ramp to make her way onto the elevated stage to receive her diploma.

Miss Cyktor said she was very excited to graduate, but said the event was bittersweet because she wasn't able to share her accomplishment with her parents.

Miss Cyktor's mother, Lori, died from cancer just two weeks before her sophomore year, and her father, Jeff, died of a heart attack a year later. She said she dedicates all of her successes to them.

Inspired by the loss of her mother, Miss Cyktor started a chapter of Colleges Against Cancer at Saint Vincent to raise funds to fight cancer.

"I like to think that I got her fighting spirit and I try to carry that on all the time," she said.

Now that graduation is over, Miss Cyktor is eager to move on to WVU in pursuit of her dream that began when she was student at Yough High School.

"I have been interested in a career in forensic science since I was in high school," she said. "I decided to study biochemistry at Saint Vincent because I think it is fascinating to analyze hair, blood and DNA to provide evidence to solve crimes."

At Yough, Miss Cyktor's high school chemistry teacher, Dana Newlin, a 2000 graduate of Saint Vincent College, encouraged her to consider studying at the Boyer School of Natural Sciences at Saint Vincent.

"I immediately felt comfortable and knew that I could count on everyone to work with me. Other students have been very helpful and supportive. It has worked out very well," she said.

Saint Vincent College president Brother Norman W. Hipps said he was a little anxious about Miss Cyktor's ability to navigate campus, especially since construction was just starting on the new science pavilion. But, his worries were short-lived.

"There were no problems whatsoever. She and her chair are amazing," he said. "During the past four years, she has had many personal challenges, but I have been impressed with her always positive spirit."

Meanwhile, Sandy Quinlivan, associate dean of studies, said, "How can you have a bad day when you are around Christie? She always has a smile on her face and a positive attitude. I know that she is a young woman with unlimited potential."

When asked if there's anything she can't overcome, Miss Cyktor responded, "I'm just not going to sit around and be sad. You have to move on."

neigh_east

Linda Metz, freelance writer: suburbanliving@post-gazette.com.


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