Scholarship Spring 2024 Winner Bryan Russell Beene

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Spring 2024 Schwartz Injury Law Perseverance Scholarship Winner

Bryan Russell Beene

Bryan Russell Beene

Bryan Russell Beene is the newest winner of our Perseverance Scholarship. A law student at the University of Syracuse College of Law, Bryan’s inspiring story of overcoming seemingly insurmountable odds after a car accident left him severely injured is truly remarkable. Read Bryan’s essay to better understand Bryan’s story and his goals for the future.

Read Bryan’s Essay:

I was twenty years old in the summer of 2002, and I found myself with some time to think. I lay on my back, immobile, my eyes on the ceiling, for seven days. The weights hanging behind my head required this time to prepare me for surgery. These weights would pull at the pair of screws drilled into the skull just above each of my ears. The automobile wreck that had fractured the C5 vertebra of my neck had also compressed my spine, and the traction apparatus would stretch my spinal column and allow the surgeon to repair the damaged bone. Meanwhile I, heavily drugged and with talk of paralysis drifting among the doctors and nurses around me, could not so much as hold a book, or even tilt my head for a view of the television. My hospital bed oscillated slowly from side to side (to allow for circulation), and I was left to consider my future.

Like most students with two years at university behind and two ahead, a central question of my life then was the nature of my post-college career. I had always been a strong student, and I hoped to parlay these skills into a fat and enviable paycheck. Indeed, I selected my original major (chemical engineering) with an eye toward maximizing future income.

By the time of the car accident, however, I had become disaffected with the idea of spending my life in service to a bank account. I had refocused my coursework towards fields that I was eager to study, research, and discuss – a double major in economics and American studies. I was not yet sure where this would take me. Certainly economics left open the possibility of promotions, corner offices, and company cars, but my values were changing.

It was my time in the hospital bed, and the many weeks of my post-surgery recovery, that matured these values from abstraction to purpose, from aspiration to practice. I decided that, if I could truly dispense with monetary considerations, I would most like to teach. Dozens of teachers, chief among them my mother the 8th-grade algebra teacher, had instilled in me a deep affection for education and set me on a path to teaching high school economics.

This new goal, however, required some new courses, and I was determined to start as soon as possible. A broken neck requires considerable rehabilitation, beginning with the effort to get myself from the hospital bed to the parking lot for the ride home. To that point, the hospital personnel had taken care of me, but my rehab would be up to me. I thought, from my experience as a high school athlete and student, that I had a strong work ethic, but in the coming months this would be tested. My goal was to be out of my parent’s house and back at Texas A&M for summer classes, a concept that had my doctor’s blessing (but not my mother’s).

I made progress, hobbling up and down my parent’s block in my neck brace and pajama pants (as this would become an exercise in not just effort, but humility as well). Eventually I was able to make the trip back to College Station, where I learned to balance my studies with physical rehabilitation and restless nights trying to sleep in a neck brace. Classes were awkward, but I found my classmates and professors generous and encouraging. After class, a friend would drive me to the rec center; he would exercise while I walked the track (by now having upgraded from pajama pants to shorts and from a hobble to a limp). In time I began attending physical therapy, where I found myself under the direction of an unforgiving therapist who was not interested in “rest” or “days off”. I am eternally grateful for her.

Without people like that therapist - and my own determination to work through the challenge - I would not be where I am today: out of the neck brace, back to full health, and pursuing public service. I have greatly enjoyed serving my community in the classroom, and my commitment is just as strong as it was when I taught my first course. In fact, my experiences have made me more devoted to the education profession, but they have also shown me a new way that I can serve the same students, teachers, and community. My nineteen-year career has exposed me to the many areas in which legal expertise can complement and improve the educational mission of the schools, be they special education, human resources, conflict resolution, finance, facilities and real estate, or civil rights law. I recently spoke with the general counsel for a local school district, and she described a widespread need for attorneys in the field of education. She also affirmed that working on behalf of students, teachers, and parents is a challenging and fulfilling career.

Certainly, the prospect of beginning law school at forty-one years old presents me with yet another test of my work ethic, as I attempt to balance continuing my full time teaching job, raising a family, and attending law classes in the evenings. Life has taught me, though, that serving others is worth the effort. I learned this from the nurses, doctors, and hospital volunteers at my bedside. From the pastors at my church, who have encouraged me in leading small groups, helping with the youth, and aiding the elderly in our neighborhood. From my wife, who herself spent years in public education and now works for our church. From my dad, who patiently coached my little league teams (and inspired me to do the same with my kids). And from my mother, who is up at the school several times a week tutoring, even in retirement. I consider myself fortunate that these people, and the trials they helped me overcome, have prepared me for the challenges of law school and of one day serving as an attorney for a public school district.

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