By Jeana Teddick
“Being at DeSales first and foremost helped me to realize I could be independent,” said Derek Szena, ’16 graduate of DeSales.
Szena earned his bachelor’s in digital art. He currently lives with his dog, Abby, in Lehighton, Pa., in an apartment attached to his parents’ and younger sister’s house.
Szena explains that the environment at DeSales is one of the main factors that helped him to prosper.
“The professors were understanding and really cared about my success,” he said.“ They worked with my disability but still challenged me to achieve my full potential.”
Szena lives with a condition called Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy—an inherited disease, which no longer allows him to move the voluntary muscles in his body.
Despite this, Szena shares how wonderful DeSales was to him, and how proud he is to be an alumnus of the school. It is no secret that DeSales students are among some of the nicest people to encounter.
“They talked with me, encouraged me and always went out of their way to help me. DeSales has provided me with a higher level of confidence, in the fact that I overcame all of my disabilities and accomplished my goal to graduate,” said Szena.
He doesn’t have a favorite memory of DeSales, but rather a compilation of unforgettable times. Freshman year orientation was enhanced by all the support and friendship he received from many students and soon-to-be friends—making the transition to college life easier for Szena.
Experiencing Hurricane Sandy, playing chess in the library between classes and designing the 50th anniversary yearbook were among some of Szena’s most memorable moments.
“I worked with a lot of awesome people and had the amazing opportunity to be a part of the team that produced some of the greatest yearbooks,” he said. His experience helped him to determine what he wanted to pursue a career in, while showing him the true meaning of teamwork.
“My last memory I will always have is the beautiful campus and looking forward to driving my wheelchair outside around campus after a long winter—what a beautiful place,” said Szena.
The most important lesson that DeSales taught Szena was, “That it’s ok to be myself and if I am, do it to the best of my ability and I will succeed.”
Since then, Szena has been using his designing knowledge to do some freelance work for friends and family, but says that his dream goal is to work for a logo design company or start his own business.
Work aside, Szena shared his exciting upcoming plans, “I am planning a once in-a-lifetime trip down the east coast, to Disney—I could never go on spring breaks in college, and have never gone anywhere without my parents, so I wanted to do this before my career starts, or before my health declines,” he said. He chose Disney because, “Who doesn’t love Disney? It’s a happy place to be, and warm!”
Having raised the $15,000 he needed to take the trip to Disney, Szena expressed his extreme gratitude. He said, “I am blown away by the generosity of the communities around me.”
Szena will be taking three of his nurses on this nine-day trip. However, he considers these nurses more along the lines of good friends and people that know and love him more than anyone. Szena will depart from Pennsylvania in a van on April 20.
For those interested in donating towards Szena’s trip, his “Fund My Travel” page is listed under “Derek’s Once in a Lifetime East Coast Road Trip!”