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Graduation 2014: Geneva grad doesn't allow cerebral palsy to limit him

GENEVA – Like many Geneva High School graduating seniors, George Keenan has a college lined up, Edgewood College in Madison, Wisconsin, a private liberal arts college of 2,800 students.

That might not be big news for the average 18-year-old, but Keenan was born with cerebral palsy. 

“They have a program called Cutting Edge which is for ‘differently abled’ people,” Keenan said. “I was trying to get in. And I was overqualified.”

Instead, he was accepted to the school’s regular education program, he said.

“They have an amazing program for people who are ‘differently abled,’ ” his mother, Teresa Keenan, said. “Not just the Cutting Edge program, but they are really accommodating at Edgewood College. This is a perfect spot for him.”

The Kane County Chronicle this week is highlighting local high school graduating seniors. The Geneva High School graduation is set for 2 p.m. Sunday at the high school.

Keenan said he wants to study computer science or graphic design or art in college.

In high school, Keenan said he refused to be defined by his physical limitations. He has a mobility bike that he rides nearly every day, pedaling from Geneva to Wheaton or Bartlett or Carpentersville, frequently covering 25 to 35 miles at a time, said his father, Terrance Keenan.

He was on the wrestling team and is waiting to receive his Eagle Scout badge. 

“The coaches … encouraged me to come out for the team sophomore year,” Keenan said. “And I did it sophomore through senior year. If I could go back, I would do it all four years.”

For his Eagle Scout project, Keenan and other Scouts supervised the burning of some 200 retired American flags, one at a time, over a period of several hours.

“He has really made a lot of great strides for himself,” his mother said. “He created his own opportunities, and he is a hard worker. He had a great high school experience.”

Keenan’s personality and perseverance did not go unnoticed by his teachers, such as math teacher Ryan Estabrook, who noted his accomplishments and “his great positive attitude.” 

“I have found George to be determined, resourceful and a genuinely optimistic person,” Estabrook wrote in a letter of recommendation for Edgewood College. “He thrived in a class that required strong study skills and academic prowess. His determination, patience and perseverance were among his greatest assets in that class.”

Estabrook’s letter details that Keenan “is one of the most inspirational people that I have ever met. He doesn’t complain about his disabilities, rather he just works harder to make sure that he isn’t limited in what he can accomplish.”

“George’s personality lights up a room,” Estabrook wrote. “His sense of humor and general sweetness always brighten the day of the people who get to interact with him on a daily basis.”

Having some physical limitations from cerebral palsy has not stopped him from doing very much, Keenan said, admitting only to lacking fine motor skills. But that’s it.

“I do a lot of interesting stuff,” Keenan said. “I am ‘differently abled.’ ”

His advice for others similarly “differently abled” is simple: “Never quit and just keep on going. If there is something challenging for you, you can do it. You might need to find a different way.”

Know more

The Kane County Chronicle continues its annual series this week profiling graduating seniors from local high schools. This year, we also will provide an update on graduates we previously featured.

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