Alive and Well
Once on the brink of death, Richard Gayle graduates and beats the odds
The normalcy of attending classes, living on campus in the University Place apartments and tossing frisbees on the Kennesaw State campus green stands in stark contrast to the grueling five-years Richard “Gip” Gayle spent recovering from an accidental shotgun wound to the head that he sustained in 2003 while hunting in Vidalia, Ga.
Both experiences are part of Gayle’s life journey, which he says reached a zenith Tuesday when he received a Bachelor of Science in Integrative Studies during the first of five commencement ceremonies this week at the Kennesaw State Convocation Center.
“This is a dream come true,” he said. “KSU has given me a chance to make it come true.”
It was not easy, concedes Gayle, who came to Kennesaw State in 2008 to finish what he started before that horrific blast crushed the entire right front corner of his skull. After more than 25 surgeries and intensive therapy at Atlanta’s Shepherd Center, he faced the tough transition to a life of new demands.
“I had been recovering five years, and adjusting to college — the schedules, work and life in general —was tough, but I had a lot of help from all the resources at KSU,” Gayle said, citing the support he received from the university’s disAbled Student Support Services. “It was really great. It made it easier for me to stay involved.”
Despite a difficult start, Gayle threw himself into the rigors and pleasures of campus life, enrolling in a full schedule of classes in health and physical education and becoming active in Kennesaw State intramural tennis and volleyball. He did “pretty good” in tennis but is proud that he was named a runner up in volleyball competition.
Gayle’ mother, Beth, who has written a soon-to-be-released book recounting her son’s long ordeal, remembers the many difficult days, but says she and Gip remember most the amazing ways friends, family and faith carried them through the journey. Her book, titled “And Then Came the Angels,” cites Kennesaw State among those contributing to Gip Gayle’s amazing recovery and his college success.
“Many said it would never happen,” Beth Gayle said. “The school was such a gift for Gip. He was able to be successful because Kennesaw [State] was just being Kennesaw [State].”
Gip Gayle, who says he loves sports, staying active and working with young people, was pretty intent on being an athletics coach, which led him to initially major in health and physical education. He revised his plans in spring 2011 after taking an introductory leadership class taught by Shannon Ferketish, professor of leadership and director of the Integrative Studies Program in Kennesaw State’s University College.
“That class changed my whole direction because it helped me realize how I might use my experiences to help others,” Gayle said. “Professor Ferketish is a novel teacher who really gets you to think. She opened up new possibilities for me.”
As a result, Gayle changed his major to integrative studies, a degree program that allows students to combine courses from two academic areas to build a custom degree plan based on their educational and career goals.
After the switch, Gayle loaded his last two semesters with courses like “Leading in Groups,” “Ethics in Leadership” and Leadership in Global Society” to develop his understanding of leadership and the skills to work toward it. His capstone “Senior-Year Experience” course is billed as the “first class for the rest of your life.”
Gayle is uncertain exactly how the rest of his life will unfold, but he is optimistic about the prospects. “Earning the degree will open more doors and give me a chance to help others,” he said. “I’m really looking forward to things coming together.”
As his departmental advisor, Ferketish is certain that Gayle will one day make his mark.
“Gip is an incredible student with quite a dry sense of humor,” she said. “He is the quiet guy who finds humor in most situations. From my experiences with him, I know he is the type of student that will go far. He wants to use what he has learned and experienced to motivate others to achieve their goals, no matter the obstacle. I know Gip will continue to achieve his dreams. I truly feel that he has already influenced so many of us.”
In the meantime, like most of his fellow graduates, Gayle says he will start working on his résumé , take vacations, and attend weddings. More immediately, he said, “I think I’ll just go to sleep for a while.”
— Sabbaye McGriff