Things haven’t always come easy for 21-year-old Colton James Stewart.
But that doesn’t mean he backs down.
He never abandoned his goal of receiving a high school diploma, and 10 days ago, that goal was realized. On May 23, Stewart made the walk across the graduation stage in a red cap and gown at Noble Stadium to receive his high school diploma.
“On a scale of one to 10, it was an 11,” Stewart says with a smile.
Stewart never thought he would graduate from high school in 2014 or at age 21. He pictured being handed the diploma years earlier with his classmates. But a one-vehicle accident in the fall 2011 altered his chance of graduating on time.
In October 2011, he was driving on Stobtown Road, north of Lone Grove, when he swerved to miss two dogs in the roadway. He lost control of his vehicle. The vehicle went off the road, taking out fence and hitting two trees before coming to rest upside down.
The accident left him in a semi-coma suffering an extreme head injury. Family members and many members of the community prayed daily for his recovery as he was treated at OU Medical Center for months.
“They said I had a five percent chance of living, and they said that on a good day,” Stewart remembers.
But Stewart beat those odds, and beating odds became his favorite hobby. He continued to overcome, progressing in physical therapy and re-learning many things he used to do daily.
“Life is one obstacle after another, you just have to learn to do it to the best of your ability,” he says.
About 15 months after the accident, and once doctors advised Stewart could return to a school setting, Stewart said he contacted Ardmore High School about re-enrolling. His senior year was cut short as the teen spent his days in the hospital following the accident.
He was handed information about completing his GED.
“I thought that would be the easy way out,” Stewart says. “I didn’t want to get a GED. I wanted a diploma. They said I was past the age (of a student).”
But Stewart reminded school officials of his new status with disabilities following the accident. After some discussions and checking student-with-disabilities policies, he was allowed to enroll for the 2013-14 school year.
In August, Stewart began making the trip each morning to Southern Oklahoma Technology Center for taking classes in the Promoting Achievement and Student Success program, known as the PASS program. There, Stewart worked at his own pace through a computer program where he learned lessons in English, geometry, World History, math, finance and more.
PASS is an on-campus program that works with students who exited high school before graduating and are returning to school for a diploma. PASS students also pursue a technical field during their day at SOTC.
In the afternoons, Stewart moved over to the auto shop to take trade classes in auto services.
“I had to set my own goals,” Stewart says. “At first, I would only complete one lesson a day. After a while, I began to complete four to five lessons each day.”
Stewart said it was “refreshing” to be back in school and on the SOTC campus, where be previously took classes in auto services.
His sights are now set on becoming a mechanic.
“I am definitely a gear head,” Stewart says. “I loved fixing them and working on them. I am going to continue at SOTC to pass the compliance test to become a certified mechanic.”
Stewart says he hopes to one day open his own auto shop.
For now, he will continue to chase the next hurdle, knowing that he could never be where he is today if he had given up.
“Anything is possible, as long as you set your mind to it,” Stewart says.