The man in orange
Student perseveres to graduate
Every Wednesday, eyes catch sight of a man in a nice fluorescent-orange buttoned shirt, sitting and smiling from his seat to the right of Liberty University’s convocation stage. Often referenced from stage or seen as a contributing host on Around Liberty in 90 Seconds, students, both past and present, have grown to know and love the man in the orange shirt.
Patrick Andrews, whose laugh echoes down hallways and hugs wrap around fellow students and university staff, will bear cap and gown this year as he walks across the graduation stage.
“Just to think, there is a degree with my actual name on it,” Patrick said. His laugh punctuated his exclamation.
As one of Liberty’s longest-term students, Patrick will receive his Bachelor of Science Degree in Communications on May 12, 2012. He celebrated his 40th birthday on April 28, 2012.
“After all, 40 is the new 30,” Patrick said.
Upon graduation, Patrick will have been at Liberty for nearly two decades, since he first arrived in January 1994 — the semester of the car accident that changed Patrick’s life forever.
Patrick and two of his friends were travelling down Candlers Mountain Road, March 24, 1994, only a few miles from campus, when the car’s front axle presumably snapped, flipping the car and causing it to skid almost 50 feet.
“I remember nothing at all about the wreck,” Patrick said. “I’ve been told about it, but I can’t remember anything.”
Although doctors told Patrick’s family that his decision to wear a seatbelt saved his life, Patrick suffered severe head trauma. Patrick was in a coma for the next six weeks, under careful watch at Lynchburg General Hospital.
“It took me a while to figure out what was going on and where I was,” Patrick said.
While Patrick was still in a coma, Dr. Jerry Falwell Sr. came to visit, offering prayer, support and a scholarship to continue his education.
“He told my family, ‘If Patrick can come out of his coma, (he) can come back to Liberty on a scholarship,’” Patrick said.
Patrick eventually transferred to a rehabilitation center in Richmond, for the following six weeks.
“There was no break for vacation,” Patrick said. “Every day, I was in therapy, working to understand everything.”
However, Patrick had one thing on his mind — getting back to school.
“In my mind, I was thinking, ‘I can’t just go back to Liberty,’” Patrick said. “‘No possible way.’ It took so many years for my brain to even get a grasp of why I was not in school any more.”
“It is hard to explain to you how my heart ached,” Patrick said. “But in my heart, I was crying, wanting so much to be back at Liberty.”
Patrick later moved back to his hometown of Austin, Texas, where he worked for a year and a half to regain his memory.
“Literally every other day, I did therapy. I did three hours worth of physical therapy, speech therapy and occupational therapy. I would not wish that on anybody in the world,” Patrick said. “I hated every second of it, but I kept on doing it. I knew that that’s what I needed to do.”
After leaving the rehab center in Austin, Patrick took Falwell up on his offer and returned to Liberty in the fall of 1998.
From then on, Patrick had a special relationship with Falwell. Patrick thought so highly of the outspoken reverend that he wears a bight orange shirt in memory of him.
“In 1998, I saw the shirt in a box of Good-Will-type clothes given to the LBI (Liberty Bible Institute) class. When I saw the bright orange shirt, it was like glowing in the dark, and I was like ‘whooooo,’” Patrick said.
Every Wednesday after that, Patrick wore the shirt to convocation, hoping that its color would catch Falwell’s attention while he spoke on stage.
“While Jerry was up there talking to us, I wanted him to spot me, to see that I am out there,” Patrick said. “The Wednesday after he died, I started wearing it in honor of Jerry Falwell, and now I wear it in honor of him and because it’s tradition.”
While he is graduating in a few short months, Patrick secretly hopes his future will not lead him far from Liberty.
“I know my situation at Liberty is unique. And it’s not beyond God to open a unique position here at Liberty University,” Patrick said. “It has been a huge part of my life. I’d love to promote it here.”
Patrick is amazed at what he says God has done in his life, making what is impossible, possible.
“A traumatic brain injury (TBI) and a college degree are usually mutually exclusive. You don’t usually have one if you have the other,” Patrick said. “But praise the Lord that I was not only able to get an LBI diploma in 2003, but nine years later actually get a bona fide, real life, Bachelor of Science degree.”
For Patrick, the best part of his story is yet to come, but he understands what he has been through is all a part of God’s perfect plan for his life.
“The reason I think God allowed this when I was only 21 years old was because he wanted to use that as an example and a testimony to him,” Patrick said. “The Bible says, in Ephesians 3:20, that God is able to do exceedingly more than we can ask or imagine. I am living proof that absolutely nothing is too hard for God.”
For more information about Patrick, look up his life story on YouTube — “The Story of Patrick Andrews.”