Rob Conner doesn’t see himself as a particularly inspirational guy. But others do, and with good reason. When Conner—seated in a wheelchair guided by his brother Mark—received his associate’s degree in liberal arts at commencement in May, it was a major milestone in a seven-year story of love, dedication and determination involving Rob and his parents, Bob and Shelia. Indeed, it was a moment that even the ever-optimistic Rob finds amazing. “I worked very hard toward it,” he says. “But I guess I never thought the day would ever come.”
His feelings are easily understood. In May 1996, the active, athletic Cincinnati native was two weeks shy of his high school graduation when he suffered a stroke that left him legally blind and with limited use of his hands. Determined to care for their son at home, the Conners came up with a plan. Bob took early retirement from his job with the U.S. Department of the Treasury to spend days with Rob and teach classes at the University of Cincinnati at night; Shelia kept her day job at Procter & Gamble and spent evenings at home.
Staying home, however, was the last thing on Rob’s mind—he was determined to attend college. After some family discussion, he enrolled in a single course at Cincinnati’s Raymond Walters College in 1997. From the start, it was a team effort. Bob accompanied him to class, guiding Rob’s wheelchair, serving as his eyes and taking notes. Shelia typed Rob’s papers at night.
The strategy continued as Rob transferred to Xavier in 2002. And it’s still working. With one degree and a membership in the Jesuit honor society Alpha Sigma Nu in hand, Rob plans to earn his bachelor’s degree, then attend seminary and become a hospital chaplain—a role he’s prepped for with four years of volunteer work. And while some focus on his past, Rob has a clear vision of his future. In some ways, he feels lucky, he says. “I’ve been given a chance to help