Portland resident Austin Bonebrake received the Volunteer State Community College Outstanding Graduate Award at the recent fall 2019 graduation. The award is presented to the graduating student who, in the opinion of the college faculty, has contributed the most to the advancement and betterment of the college.
Bonebrake received an Associate’s Degree in Environmental Science, graduating Cum Laude. He is a 2017 graduate of Portland High School.
The award was presented by faculty representative Len Assante. According to Assante, after looking over the recommendations from Bonebrake’s professors, several words kept repeating in the various recommendations, which made him want to use those words in describing why Bonebrake was worthy of this outstanding award.
Assante stated that Bonebrake’s professors described him as a person who had persevered, worked hard, overcame adversities, and always had a smile on his face. He added that Bonebrake is an excellent ambassador for the college.
In 2015, a sledding accident ended many of Austin Bonebrake’s dreams. He was two weeks away from his 16th birthday, and was excited about getting his driver’s license. Unfortunately, one last sled ride down a hill after an afternoon of fun with his friends ended in tragedy. The accident left him paralyzed after he hit his head on a tree, breaking one vertebra and crushing another.
He spent four months at Shepherd Center in Atlanta, Ga., which specializes in spinal cord injury rehabilitation. He learned many life skills to become as independent as possible and was given driving lessons in a truck that was adapted for his type injury. He was hoping that someday he would have his own truck, and that day is almost here.
Recently through the help of private donations, a relative who did a bike run in his honor, a Go Fund Me account, and with his parents help, the family was able to purchase him a Chevy Silverado that could be adapted for him to use. The truck is currently being adapted at Mobility Works in Gallatin, and Austin is hopeful it will be ready in early January.
He has passed the necessary driving tests to qualify to drive the truck, and all he is waiting for is for it to correctly meet his driving needs. The cost of the modifications will be paid by the state.
Bonebrake said, “The truck will offer life changing possibilities for me. It will give me the opportunity to gain quite a bit of freedom. I will be able to get a job because I will have transportation.”
His mother, Patty Bonebrake, has been his guiding force. She quit her job to be able to drive him to college. On long days, she would come home, but on many of the shorter ones and two hour days, she would hang around Gallatin waiting for him to get out of class to drive him home.
His mother and father Tom Bonebrake have always been there for him including using some of their life savings to help him purchase the truck. They have always believed in him.
He is on his way in January to Western Kentucky University in Bowling Green, Ky. where he hopes his mother will not have to hang around Bowling Green waiting for him to get out of class. He is looking forward to the independence the truck will mean to him and his mother, as well.
He plans to major in Biology at WKU and work with a company that finds innovative solutions to environmental problems or he said he might work as a biologist. Any path he chooses, he will continue to be an ambassador for Volunteer State Community College, as he continues to live up to the outstanding award the college bestowed on him.