Guyanese ex-marine quadriplegic earns technology degree
Stabroek News
May 6, 2004

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"If you were to name the ten happiest people in the world, I would be one of them. I take life in its stride, and I am grateful for all the good things that have come my way."

These are the words of Joseph Skeete [ please note: link provided by LOSP web site ] an ex-marine with the Guyana Defence Force Marine Corps. His story is one of determination and courage, shown in the wake of a tragic accident that could have derailed all of his hopes and plans.

Skeete has been described in a release from the New York City College of Technology as one of the most outstanding members of the graduating class of 2004.

Now 61 years old, Skeete served as a Captain in the Guyanese Merchant Navy and subsequently as a Lieutenant in the GDF Marine Corps. In 1969, during a joint military exercise between the GDF and the Trinidad and Tobago Coast Guard, he dove into shallow and muddy waters, hitting his head on a tree stump that was not visible from the surface. Skeete, then only 26 years old, suffered irreversible damage to his spinal column and had to adjust to life as a quadriplegic.

He admitted, "At first of course, I was very distraught, but I found hope and guidance in the words of a doctor, who advised me to concentrate not on what I had lost, but on what I had left. Fortunately, I found the strength to heed his counsel and, in fact, have continued to follow it to this very day."

However, because he was well trained and qualified, the government of Guyana kept him on administratively in the military where he remained until his retirement in 1994 at the rank of major.

At age 51, Skeete migrated to the US to join his family and settled in St. Albans, Queens.

He began to prepare himself for a new career, enrolling in a City University of New York (CUNY) college preparation course and matriculating at New York City College of Technology where he earned an associate degree in computer systems. After graduating he intends to pursue either a master's degree in forensic science at John Jay College of Criminal Justice or a master's of science in informatics at Downstate University Hospital.

"Informatics," Skeete ex-plains, "is a relatively new field that combines computer technology with the medical profession.

There will always be a need for these services, and I look forward to teaching young people to develop skills in these areas. I especially want to help those who have fallen through the cracks of our society, but are motivated to overcome their problems and are willing to become productive members of their communities."

Faith Fogelman, City Tech's director of student support services said in the press release, "Mr Skeete achieves an unusual balance between giving and receiving, with the edge toward giving."

Among the things that Skeete has achieved at City Tech are: the Dean's List 2001-2002 and 2003-2004, recipient of the CUNY Leadership Award in 2001, President of the Student Support Services Club, and mentor to other students in Computer Science, Math and English.

Skeete says about disability: "There are several categories of disability, but only three types of people with disabilities in my estimation; the first are those who refuse to accept their disability. Such people wither away and give up on life. The second accept their disability outwardly but not inwardly, a state of mind that tears at the root of one's sanity and leads to great mental turmoil.

"The third category describes those who accept their disability both outwardly and inwardly. Those of us who are able to do that are thus empowered to pursue our goals and, eventually to succeed in life."

City Tech will hold its 64th Commencement Exer-cises on June 3 in the theatre at Madison Square Garden, where Skeete will graduate with a bachelor of technology degree in computer systems.