All full of smiles
GRAND FORKS, N.D.
GRAND FORKS, N.D. - Brandon Erickson walked across the stage Friday just like any other University of North Dakota graduate.
But the 24-year-old's journey through college wasn't the typical university experience.
Erickson was away from UND for one year serving with the 957th Multi-Role Bridge Company of the National Guard.
He lost part of his right arm in July 2003 after insurgents attacked his convoy.
Weeks after his military discharge that December, Erickson resumed classes at UND.
He took 18 to 21 credits a semester to complete a bachelor's degree in political science as quickly as possible.
Now that he's finished, Erickson said he's most looking forward to joining his wife in California and starting a family.
Friday was the first time Erickson had seen his wife in more than a month.
Dana Parry-Erickson is pursuing a doctorate degree in psychology and has lived in California this semester.
"I've been all full of smiles," Erickson said after the ceremony.
As Erickson received his degree, family members cheered in support.
"I'm just so proud of him for making it this far and graduating," Parry-Erickson said. Erickson has always challenged himself and maintained a positive outlook, she said.
Clark Piepkorn, Erickson's second cousin, said he got to know Erickson better while Erickson worked for him at Happy Grass, a Grand Forks lawn-care business.
Erickson was determined to work just as hard after the accident as he did before, Piepkorn said.
"He certainly hasn't allowed the accident to slow his life down any," he said.
Adjusting from military life to being a student was difficult at first, Erickson said. Originally right-handed, Erickson sought help from UND's Disability Support Services to keep up with notetaking.
Many of Erickson's friends at UND have graduated, but about 10 members of his unit returned to UND.
Erickson said he provided a different perspective in class discussions involving the war in Iraq.
The last thing he had to do before graduating was take a final exam on military history.
"I thought it'd be easy and I was dead wrong," Erickson said of the class.
After graduating, Erickson said he breathed a huge sigh of relief after spending the week studying for finals and preparing to move.
Erickson plans to attend Fresno State and work toward a master's in business administration. He wants to stay in government work.
As soon as today, or as soon as Erickson can work out a snag with a U-haul reservation, Erickson and his wife will move to California.
"Now we can finally be together as a married couple." Parry-Erickson said.
Piepkorn said his cousin is moving on in the right direction.
"He's certainly going to be missed," Piepkorn said.
More than 700 students were eligible to walk across the stage Friday at two separate UND ceremonies.
Readers can reach Forum reporter Amy Dalrymple at (701) 241-5590