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Late resident to receive honorary degree from SFSC

SEBRING - Monday evening, Lisa Beatty will don a cap and gown for her older brother, who if he were still alive, would probably wonder what the fuss was about. “He would have thought all this hoopla was funny,” she smiled. Greg Meeker may not have cared for the pomp and circumstance of graduation ceremonies, but graduating and moving on to bigger things was important to him. “He had tried to go to school several times and he had struggled,” Beatty said.
But Greg didn’t let Asperger’s Syndrome, which made him uncomfortable in crowds, or age, get in the way. The 35-year-old was beginning to find his way in life. If he had been alive, he’d be the one probably crossing the stage at South Florida State College’s commencement ceremony Monday, getting his associate’s in arts degree. That one day this January, when Greg’s Chevy Impala was hit by a truck, he had been headed for classes. This semester was supposed to be his last one. The next step was a four-year degree in computer science. The fateful accident cut short the life of a loving brother, son and uncle but something of his legacy will forever live with his family when Beatty accepts an honorary AA degree on Greg’s behalf next week. SFSC President Norm Stephens, who made this gesture possible, said it’s the first time he has granted such a request. “Our policy allows it,” he said. “Under the circumstances, it seems appropriate.” Greg’s mother, Candice Meeker, had meet Stephens about a year ago at a Lifetime Learner’s Institute meeting. She had approached him then and explained her son’s situation. Stephens had assured her that SFSC had the staff and support services to help Greg get back on his feet. This time her request was much more somber and heartfelt. Could the college bestow her late son his degree he was so close to getting? “It really touched me,” Stephens said. “He was so close (to graduating). He was doing so well. We felt it was the least we could do.” Greg Meeker’s honorary diploma comes on the heels of another posthumous award. His “Introduction To Ecology” professor Clell Ford, who had him as a student last fall, nominated him for an outstanding student award. Candice and Kerry Meeker accepted the honor last week and the grieving dad not only thanked SFSC for accommodating and supporting his son but told those present to keep supporting people in life who may have dreams but take a bit longer than others to fulfill them. Ford said Greg Meeker, who was not the oldest student in his class, brought his maturity and life experience to the classroom. Perhaps, because of his age, he understood the value of getting that education, Ford said. “He jumped in with both feet,” he said. “He was trying to learn. He was an extraordinary student. I’m glad to be able to honor his memory.”