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Long road to graduation
LeTourneau students, including one who survived crash, earn diplomas



Sunday, December 16, 2007

Brandon Culp began his college studies in the fall of 2000 at LeTourneau University.

On Saturday, he was one of about 130 students to graduate during the university's commencement ceremony.

Les Hassell/News-Journal Photo
LeTourneau University President Dale A. Lunsford presents Brandon Lee Culp with his diploma Saturday during graduation ceremonies at the new S. E. Belcher Chapel and Performance Center.

What happened during the seven years in between is remarkable.

In 2002, he fell from his bunk at the dormitory and injured his spinal cord. The resulting rehab set him back a semester, he said.

It was a precursor to injuries he sustained more than two years later in an wreck that nearly cost him his life.

"He was flat-lined," university spokeswoman Janet Ragland said. "(Doctors) brought him back."

Culp had spent the Christmas 2004 holidays with his family in Harrisburg, Pa., and was driving back to Longview. On Interstate 20 in Brandon, a suburb east of Jackson, Miss., a car merged into traffic and pushed Culp's vehicle into a tractor-trailer, he said.

He was taken to a Jackson hospital, where he was revived and placed in intensive care for three weeks.

He had a broken neck, collarbone and ribs, and a collapsed lung.

Today, he can walk with forearm crutches, although he used a wheelchair at Saturday's commencement.

It was the first such ceremony for the university at the new S.E. Belcher Jr. Chapel and the first for new university President Dale A. Lunsford.

"I know that we will honor this day for many, many, many years to come," Lunsford said.

So will Culp, much like he honors the men and women along the way who have helped him to where he is now.

It was a Jackson pastor and her church that shepherded Culp and found a place for his family to live during his immediate recovery, Ragland said.

He spent several months doing in-patient rehab in Pennsylvania and another seven months in outpatient care.

One year after the wreck, he returned to Longview to pick up his belongings. An adviser suggested that he finish what he started.

"He said, 'You should finish. You don't have that much to go, and we can work things out,'" Culp remembered. "I went to Penn State University and took a few classes, and I did some online courses through LeTourneau's distance learning program."

He earned enough credits for his bachelor's degree in aeronautical science this past summer, and he's worked for Brenner Aerostructures in Judson, Pa., for about three months as a manufacturing engineer.

"My right hand is pretty good, and my left hand is pretty much paralyzed," Culp said. "But I'm very, very fortunate of how much I've gotten back, considering what my injury was."