Inclusion and Leadership Summit

By Drue Watkins

From 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. on March 29, Cameron University hosted the 5th Annual Inclusion and Leadership Summit at the McMahon Centennial Complex with an appearance by Motivational and Keynote Speaker Chris Norton. 

Cameron held the summit free of charge and open to the public, requiring prior registration through the university’s website for refreshments and seating options.

The summit consisted of a one-day conference that focused on various topics including: diversity, equity, accessibility and inclusive leadership.

Various workshops made up the bulk of the day, each lasting one hour and taught by speakers who made up Cameron faculty, staff and student-body.

The workshops followed three main tracks:

1. Media Mindfulness

2. The Power of Policy

3. Advocacy in Action

Event organizers passed out envelopes containing workshop descriptions and a post-summit survey to complete for those who attended.

Cameron Inclusion and Student Success Coordinator Olivia Polynice said the Department of Student Services had several key ideas about the importance of the event.

“One of them is to give students a one-day event where they can research a bunch of different topics and learn about a plethora of ideas and backgrounds,” she said, “which include social justice, diversity, inclusion, politics, science and how those things intersect.

“It’s important for the university because it equips our community with the tools to be those proactive stewards of social equity in all daily interactions.”

Following the tracks, Norton hosted the luncheon, which consisted of sandwiches, chips, soft drinks and water.

Polynice said selecting Norton as Keynote Speaker was an easy choice after she and Administrative Assistant Melissa Caro heard about his story on the radio.

Norton is a former football defensive back who played for the Luther College Norse.

In 2010, his career ended when he became paralyzed after making a tackle during a kick off.

At the hospital, Norton’s doctor gave him a three percent chance of ever regaining movement or feeling below the neck; however, in an act that paved his way to becoming a motivational speaker, Norton took 10 steps across the graduating stage of his university, and during his wedding ceremony, walked his wife Emily seven yards down the marriage aisle.

“People Magazine” filmed Norton’s wedding ceremony, exposing his actions and leading Norton to establish the SCI CAN Foundation in 2012, which helps those afflicted by spinal cord injuries.

As of 2017, the SCI CAN Foundation raised over $600,000.

After graduating college, Norton founded his own speaking company, Norton Motivation, out of Port St. Lucie, Florida.

Norton rounded out the day’s summit by giving words of advice and speaking about his life experiences.

He started his speech by referencing his life in a wheelchair by using #wheelchairperks as his platform. He said there are lots of things to like about it.

“I get the best parking,” he said. “That’s something you don’t think about until it’s right there. So, I take advantage of that. Although, living in Florida, that can be pretty competitive.

“Also, think about camping, all those mosquitos. Everybody gets bit, and it itches. But me? I don’t even feel the bites on my legs.”

He said life can be difficult, but giving up solves nothing.

“When the doctor told me I only had a three percent chance of ever walking again,” he said, “I couldn’t believe it. I wouldn’t believe it. I knew, right that instant, I wouldn’t be part of the 97 percent. I would walk again.

“A nurse named Georgia from Wyoming came to me one night and said something I would never forget: ‘You will beat this.’ Not ‘You can beat this.’ It’s something I’ve never forgotten and something everyone can learn from. You can be a Georgia to someone—tell them they will do something, not that they can. It will motivate them and it will motivate you.”

During his speech, Norton laid out three general rules of thumb to follow for a successful life:

1. Point out Problems

2. Be a Georgia

3. Who’s Counting on You

He went into detail on each point, emphasizing how the rules help create structure, empathy and dedication for living.

Norton also said his foundation offers so many options for those in need.

“We really give out those opportunities and resources for people to recover and be healthy,” he said. “We’re starting a free wheelchair camp in the summer for kids and their families to give them all a chance to be active and have fun.”

Polynice said she greatly enjoyed Norton’s speech.

“One of my favorite parts was when he stood up at the end,” she said. “I thought that was so impactful and meaningful. Going in, we knew that he could, and he told us about it, but seeing it in person was really significant.

“I pay attention to the small, little things and could see how hard it was for him, and you could tell how much it meant for him to take that step.”

In terms of what she hopes students get out of the event, Polynice said she wants strong, future community involvement.

“I want everyone who attended to learn how to learn,” she said. “I want people to leave knowing how to research things and think for themselves; to really analyze things under a microscope.”

For more information, visit Cameron’s website at cameron.edu.

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