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To some degree, college teaches all students how to live on their own. But that aspect of the Carthage education was especially valuable to 2008 graduate Bill Crowley.
He was paralyzed from the chest down after an auto accident in Chicago at age 2 — a crash that killed his pregnant mother and stepfather. Raised by his father and stepmother, he found normalcy in his childhood by joining Boy Scouts and playing games with friends. Still, moving into Johnson Hall provided his first real journey away from home.
“I got a lot out of Carthage,” Mr. Crowley said. “Life-wise, I learned how to live independently.”
Drawn by the campus setting and the Western Heritage program, he made equal strides in the classroom.
“I generally felt high school was pretty easy,” he said, “but Carthage challenged me a lot more.”
He majored in political science after a J-Term class titled “So You Want To Be a Lawyer” sparked an interest in law. That led him to Marquette University Law School, where he graduated in 2011.
As he often does with alumni who proceed to law school, Professor Jonathan Marshall brought Mr. Crowley back to speak to Carthage classes. Prof. Marshall, chair of the Political Science Department, also nominated him for the ACLU of Wisconsin’s board of directors — a seat he won by election and now holds.
In that role, Mr. Crowley said he hopes to increase awareness about disability rights and increase accessibility. It continues a mission he embraced as an intern with the nonprofit organization Disability Rights Wisconsin, as well as with the Carthage student organization the Special Olympics Club.
Faculty members knew little or nothing of the background that once made him a prominent figure in the Chicago area. The other driver in the collision was impaired by cocaine, prompting a young Mr. Crowley to speak to drunken driving offenders. The American Trauma Society recognized him as its poster child and arranged a meeting with President George H. W. Bush.
“It’s sometimes hard to fit in, but I never thought it altered what I was doing,” he said of his physical limitations.
That never held him back at Carthage, where he and his friends reinvigorated the Tau Delta Psi fraternity. He was also active in German Club and Pi Sigma Alpha, the College’s political science honor society.
Mr. Crowley built lasting friendships on campus, breaking the ice to talk to everyone he could. He and Luke Zammit, ’06, are now co-workers at Chase in downtown Milwaukee.
While he’s content for the time being as a mortgage loan document analyst, he also has an eye toward politics after staging an impromptu write-in campaign for alderman in the spring of 2012. That passion, too, has roots at Carthage, where Mr. Crowley served in Student Government during a time when that body gave input into the construction of the Campbell Student Union.
He prefers not to dwell on the hurdles life threw up, unsolicited, from a tragedy that happened before his earliest memories. There are too many challenges left to be taken on willingly.