Triumph Over Adversity: Matthew Cummings' Remarkable Story at RVC

Matthew Cummings has faced numerous challenges throughout his life, including being born with cerebral palsy and deafness.

Matthew Cummings

Matthew Cummings was a commencement speaker during RVC's 6 pm ceremony on May 27, 2024.

Despite these obstacles, Matthew has shown incredible resilience and determination. His journey at Rock Valley College (RVC) is a testament to his strength and perseverance.

Matthew's life has been marked by significant health issues. "I have died three times, I have brain damage, I have involuntary movements, and I am deaf," he says. These disabilities might seem overwhelming to many, but Matthew has never let them hold him back. Instead, he uses his experiences to inspire others, reminding them that despite overwhelming obstacles, strength and determination can lead to success.

Lynn Shattuck, Director, Disability Support Services, has admired Matthew’s positivity and determination to move forward despite his obstacles.

 “I’ve met many students over the course of my career here at RVC, but Matthew stands out. He has had more hurdles to overcome than the average student, yet he has a drive and determination that is truly admirable. In a world where it is so easy to feel entitled and find excuses for why things don’t go as planned, Matthew never complains or feels sorry for himself. He just keeps moving forward.”

One of the pivotal moments in Matthew's journey at RVC was meeting his friend Olivia during his first week in an Art History class taught by Professor Matthew Vincent. Olivia's acceptance and friendship made a profound impact on Matthew. "She treated me like a regular college student," he recalls. Olivia's kindness and support, alongside other classmates and faculty, helped Matthew feel less like a lone wolf and more like part of a community.

His experience at RVC was filled with moments of support and compassion from both students and staff. From holding doors open to helping fill water bottles, the community at RVC showed Matthew that he wasn't alone. This environment of mutual support was crucial in helping him achieve his goals. "The bottomless compassion paved the way for the community that is so welcoming to be a part of," Matthew says.

Matthew’s academic journey was not straightforward. He attended two other colleges before finding his place at RVC. Despite facing employment rejections and battling depression, Matthew figured out that it was finally time to finish his education. At RVC, he pursued a degree, associate of arts, completing his 12-year journey.

Throughout his time at RVC, Matthew faced numerous challenges, but he never gave up. He found a support system in the Disability Support Service and formed a small study group to help him pass his classes. "There were a few moments where my thoughts weren’t aligned with the professors, but once they understood that I get the same results using different methods, they let me do my thing," Matthew explains.

Tracy Hazen, Assistant Professor, Communications & Humanities, was impressed with Matthew’s dedication to assignments and eagerness to take on challenges.  It was an enriching experience to have Matt in her class. Despite facing significant obstacles, he consistently displayed a remarkable eagerness to learn, demonstrating a deep commitment to his education and personal growth.

“What truly stood out was his choice of challenging topics for assignments, showcasing a deep curiosity and a willingness to tackle complex issues head-on. Additionally, the time and effort he put into perfecting his work was exemplary. Matt wasn't just about getting things done; he wanted them to be the best they could be. That kind of dedication is rare and truly admirable.”

Matthew's story is not just about overcoming obstacles; it's about building a legacy. He spent twelve years working towards his goal of graduating, and his perseverance paid off. "My legacy and yours are in our hands when we firmly grasp our degrees," he says. Matthew's journey is a powerful reminder that with hard work and determination, anything is possible.

Cara Vande Voorde, Accommodations Specialist, saw Matt as a “class act” student from the minute he strolled into her office. His humor, big smile, and poetic communication always made each time they met a five-star experience. Even when he has much to complain about, such as waiting over an hour for transportation or an elevator not working, Matt handles these situations with grace and style.

‌“Being an advocate for yourself is one of the most challenging skills that all students face. Matt is doing this on a daily basis at RVC, in the community, and in his home environment. At RVC, this means letting staff know what environmental barriers are in his way, accessibility issues with academic content, or communication concerns. Matt is asking each of us at RVC to look outside the box and come up with creative solutions. He is breaking norms and fighting for the life he wants to lead.”

This fall, he plans to return to RVC for a Mass Communication certification program before transferring to Northern Illinois University to major in film. His ultimate goal is to work in the film industry, using his experiences and knowledge to make a meaningful impact.

As Matthew reflects on his time at RVC, he expresses deep gratitude for the community that supported him. "Compared to the other two colleges, the support system here (Professors, faculty, and even students!) has been so kind and open, and I felt I could do anything here!" he says. Matthew's story is a testament to the power of community, compassion, and perseverance.

Matthew Cummings' journey at Rock Valley College is a powerful example of overcoming adversity and achieving success. Despite numerous challenges, Matthew's determination and the support of the RVC community helped him reach his goals. His story is an inspiration to all, showing that with perseverance and a supportive community, anything is possible.