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Inclusive campus assisted law grad's journey

by John Bach

Unlike most prospective students who tend to focus on a school's ranking and reputation, Miranda Hamrick chose UC's College of Law because it had push-button bathroom doors.

The 2009 grad's friends and family would call that evidence of just how incredibly down to earth Hamrick tends to be. In reality, however, accessibility is crucial to navigating everyday life considering she relies on a motorized wheelchair for mobility. Walking is both too difficult and too dangerous for the 29-year-old because of her brittle bone disease, Osteogenesis imperfecta, or OI.

Hamrick, Cler '03, JD '09, considers herself fortunate to have only broken 15 bones in her lifetime, particularly, as she points out, when others with OI snap literally hundreds. For her, the disease didn't seriously alter her lifestyle until her junior year at Amelia High School when she fell and fractured her femur in the school parking lot.

The teenager, who at the time had hopes of getting her driver's license, spent months in a full-body cast. It was her third stint in traction, and she's been dependent upon a wheelchair ever since.

"I'm a pretty positive person," she says. "There is no reason not to be. I guess my outlook is that if there is nothing out there to make your life miserable, don't do it on your own."

While Hamrick was nervous about getting around campus, a fairly hilly place, when she started three years ago, she soon realized it was an environment she would be able to maneuver, mostly because of the support she would get from the university community. She recalls one incident inside the Richard Lindner Center while working as a student when the head of maintenance stopped her to make sure she was getting around OK.

"He gave me his number and said, 'If you ever have any problems, give me a call,'" she says. "Of course there are places on this campus that aren't accessible, but I have never run into one person who hasn't been helpful. I feel like if I ever have a problem there is someone I can call."

That fact was never more clear than one day early in her law-school career when she and her mom, Donna Hamrick, discovered their usual handicap parking space along McMicken Circle was closed due to construction. When College of Law Dean Louis Bilionis caught wind of the inconvenience, he volunteered his own parking spot. "That just proved that this was a caring school," says Donna. "They were just like a family. They were just like us. He would have let us park there forever."

As it turned out, Donna's regular spot reopened, and she was able to again drop her daughter close to class, just as she did every day of Miranda's college career, which spanned 11 years and three degrees. In the beginning, when Hamrick was pursuing her associate degree part-time at Clermont College, her mom worked days as a middle school secretary and spent her evenings playing taxi.

Once Miranda set her mind on law school, her mom and dad, Tim, realized their only child's dream was going to take a full-time commitment. Donna quit her job so she would be able to take Miranda back and forth to school through the day.

After Clermont, Miranda completed her bachelor's at Northern Kentucky University as a history major, then enrolled at law school in 2006 and was hooded, appropriately enough, on Mother's Day 2009.

"I'm going to cry talking about it," her mom says. "It was so special seeing her graduate. I guess because I've been with her through most of it. It was like hurdles and baby steps until we got through."

While at UC, Hamrick got involved in UC's Ohio Innocence Project, which works to exonerate wrongly accused prisoners around the state. "I didn't think I'd be able to go into the prisons, but I did," she says. "I really liked the work. I liked communicating with the inmates. I felt like I could say things in a way they could understand."

The new grad's hope now is to stay in Cincinnati and go into estate planning, an area of law that will allow her to form relationships with clients, a good fit for her personality. Law-school classmate Stefanie Gray (holding cap in photo), JD '09, says Hamrick is the type whom people can't help but like. "She is one of those people who can be incredibly intelligent and very down to earth and helpful at the same time," says Gray. "She is outgoing, and once you get to know her, you don't know how anyone can not be her friend."

Those closest to her say Hamrick has never been one to seek sympathy or special treatment because of her limitations. Gray recalls a number of instances in which Miranda wasn't physically able to attend parties, events or dinners, yet, she always kept a positive attitude.

Hamrick says that's simply the way she was raised.

"That's how I've approached my disability from the get-go," she says. "You can't expect other people to do it for you. You just do it."