Succeeding against all odds
Cerebral palsy may have silenced
Clinton T. Hilliard's voice, but it has done nothing to quiet his zest for life
or diminish his pride in his alma mater.
Although Hilliard, '51 was not the loudest of his classmates in attendance at
the Reunion Weekend festivities in May, his presence certainly spoke volumes
about the depth of character, intellectual strength and personal drive that are
synonymous with a Muhlenberg education.
It seems that Hilliard has been beating the odds his entire life--he was born in
Easton, Pa. on March 16, 1927 more than two months prematurely with cerebral
palsy, a brain disorder that causes a loss of motor control. Doctors told his
parents that it was unlikely that their newborn son would live past the age of
36 and that he would never lead a productive life.
Clearly, at 73 years old, Hilliard has more than proven those doctors wrong. In
addition to receiving a B.A. in natural science from Muhlenberg, Hilliard went
on to earn a master's degree in speech pathology from the University of Alabama
But Hilliard's road to academic success wasn't easy either. The president of the
first college he applied to made it quite clear that the school would not accept
someone in Hilliard's condition, stating that "it would be crucifying to accept
a boy like Hilliard" because he wouldn't be able to keep up.
Fortunately Hilliard soon found an accepting and loving home at Muhlenberg,
where he became a member of Sigma Phi Epsilon fraternity. And, it was Hilliard's
Muhlenberg English professor, Andrew Erskine, who suggested that Hilliard look
into the speech pathology program at the University of Alabama.
After finishing graduate school, Hilliard sent out more than 150 applications
before landing the first job in what would become a life-long career in the
speech pathology field. In addition to positions with the United Cerebral Palsy
Foundation, Hilliard served as head of the speech and hearing departments of
both the Crotched Mountain Rehabilitation Center in Greenfield, N.H., and the
Hogan Regional Center in Danvers, Mass.
At one point he also taught summer school at Boston-based Northeastern
University and Boston University.
In addition to these accomplishments, Hilliard is especially proud of obtaining
his driver's license, in the face of a less-than-charitable driving examiner who
said of Hilliard, "You mean that thing is going to drive." He passed the test on
the first try.
And, this is not the first time that Hilliard and his impressive life story have
appeared in print--he has been featured in the Boston Globe, Profile of Courage
magazine and numerous other publications.
In the face of physical adversity and external prejudices, Hilliard, who lives
in Nottingham, N.H. with his daughter Judith, credits family encouragement and a
loving and caring wife among the key ingredients in his success. Beyond that, he
says that "self-reliance, a quick brain, perseverance and a ready smile" have
made all the difference.