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Son goes to college — bittersweet, but time of pride

Daniel Escalonhis new dorm room University Illinois Urbana-Champaign.

Daniel Escalona in his new dorm room at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

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Updated: September 24, 2012 7:43AM

I am going to miss you so much, Daniel.

You don’t know it, but I began crying about a week ago just counting the days until we say goodbye, as you start your college life at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

For many parents, this week is bittersweet as they drive their kids to start their college education. For parents of a kid with a serious disability, the experience is even more worrisome and hopeful.

The countdown to Urbana-Champaign began for us after you received your high school diploma. I was so proud to hear your name and then see you wheel yourself in front of hundreds of classmates and parents.

I know how hard you’ve worked to get here. You have dealt with courage and determination with Duchenne muscular dystrophy, a devastating illness that progressively has robbed you from your ability to run, walk, and move your arms.

Our hearts have been broken so many times seeing your debilitating body diminish to a point now where you can move your fingers only enough to type into an iPad or dial your cellphone. Still, you have written papers, essays and newspaper articles without once complaining about your condition.

I have had the privilege of taking care of you as your body has weakened. I have bathed you, dressed you, carried you to your chair and moved you at night so that you can sleep comfortably.

For the next four years, you will live in Nugent Hall, a dorm designed and fully staffed to take care of you and 23 other students with disabilities. We are fortunate that U. of I. has a state-of-the art facility and a support network that will help you succeed in a competitive college.

You want to live on campus to fully experience college life. Just last week, I saw how happy you were to get tickets to the Illini football games. As much as I would like to be in the stands with you, I understand you want to be there with your friends.

I will cherish the times we spent together watching sports and talking about politics. I will always remember when you came with me to visit several restaurants across Chicago that showed the Euro Cup games so that I could write a column about it.

We played video games, watched movies, read the newspapers and listened to the radio together. You have taught us to face life’s challenges with dignity and hope.

On Tuesday, we packed the van and headed to Urbana-Champaign with your mom and sister. You looked a bit nervous, but eager to start this new chapter in your life. We had a great time helping you to organize and decorate your room with posters of the Beatles and the Bulls.

One of the posters you chose particularly caught my attention. It reads: “Keep calm and carry on.” That is precisely what you have done. You have carried on in spite of incredible odds against you.

Then it was time to say goodbye. We kissed and hugged you before heading back to Chicago.

We don’t know what the future will bring. But as a relative put it, you haven’t come this far to fail, Daniel.

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