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Student Honored for Overcoming Adversity

Each year, the Kiwanis Club of Muskegon rewards Muskegon County students who’ve overcome adversity in their lives to make graduation from their high school a reality.  This year, Rocket senior, Jordan Ritsema was a recipient of a Kiwanis scholarship.  The photo below show Jordan with his favorite teacher, Mrs. Erin Burkett.

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Mrs. Burkett attended the luncheon in honor of Jordan and was asked to share her thoughts on Jordan’s journey through recovery.  Mrs. Burkett’s remarks are presented below:

Good afternoon. My name is Erin Burkett and I am a special education teacher at Reeths-Puffer High School. I am here today, with pride, to introduce you to one of the most inspirational people I know, Jordan Ritsema.

The world changed in the blink of an eye for the Ritsema family on August 21, 2012. Jordan was involved in a serious car accident on his way home from tennis practice which resulted in a traumatic brain injury and other physical injuries. It was decided, upon arrival to the hospital, that he would not be airlifted to Grand Rapids because he wasn’t expected to survive, but he did and he keeps surviving and thriving every single day.

Jordan spent 29 days in intensive care and 4 ½ months at Mary Free Bed Rehabilitation Hospital.  Jordan’s journey involved learning to do everything again. He had to learn how to breath, swallow, talk and walk again. He left Mary Free Bed walking, with only a cane, in June 2013.

Jordan returned to school part time in the fall of 2013 with also having intensive speech, occupational and physical therapy daily. This wasn’t an easy year for him, he was exhausted, frustrated, and unsure of his future and had to adjust to his new “normal.” He returned to school full time in the fall of 2014, knowing he wouldn’t graduate at the same time with his twin brother and all his friends. This could have set Jordan back, but it didn’t, he pushed forward and will graduate in June with a diploma.

Jordan experienced many struggles returning to school with the physical, emotional and academic barriers he faced. He had to figure out how to navigate the school differently, how to learn differently, how to advocate for himself and how to field questions from curious classmates. He would get frustrated and wish things were different, but he handled these moments with grace, patience and alevel of maturity that astounds me.

Jordan is well deserving of this scholarship. He has shown tenacity, determination, inner and outer strength and an intense will to reach that next milestone. He isn’t letting this new set of circumstances stop him. He plans on working towards his realtor’s license, plans on working with Michigan Rehabilitation Services for job training, and would like to mentor other people who have suffered a Traumatic Brain Injury or a stroke. Jordan’s giving spirit and kind heart will be a great gift he can share with others.

It has been a privilege to have been able to be a part of his journey. It is an honor to not only know him, but to stand before all of you and let you know what an amazing young man he is. He is going to do great things with his future, I can’t wait to see it.