NWU Grad Didn't Let Obstacles Stand in Way of Degree
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Connor Standridge: Kenneth R. Holder Award Winner

After several medical setbacks en route to his theatre degree, Connor Standridge says his framed diploma is a constant reminder of overcoming obstacles. Standridge was honored this spring with the Kenneth R. Holder Award, which recognizes a graduating senior who has overcome significant challenges.

Connor Standridge: Kenneth R. Holder Award Winner

Connor Standridge (center) credits his brothers in Theta Chi Fraternity for their companionship during his health challenges.

Connor Standridge: Kenneth R. Holder Award Winner
Connor Standridge: Kenneth R. Holder Award Winner

Connor Standridge vividly remembers that winter day when he first toured Nebraska Wesleyan University.

The temperature was mild to most Midwesterners but rather chilly for the Houston, Texas native.

Weather aside, Standridge recognized immediately that NWU was where he wanted to pursue his theatre degree.

“It was a place I could simultaneously relax and push to pursue my own academic interests to the depth of my choosing,” he said.

He credits his family for instilling a passion for theatre and collaboration. It wasn’t long after his arrival in August 2015 when he met Julie Wilshusen, theatre instructor and costume library manager. Together they talked about Standridge’s interest in original music and specialized music performance classes that he’d like to pursue throughout his college career.

But Standridge’s plan hit a roadbloack.

A weight room accident that spring left him with a concussion that interfered with his ability to focus on his academics. He made the difficult decision to take some incompletes for his courses and recover at home in Houston. He returned to campus just before the fall semester to finish classes from the previous semester, ready to start strong for his sophomore year.

But soon after the semester began, Standridge faced another setback — a drug-resistant strep infection that hospitalized him for two weeks. He recovered enough to complete his sophomore year, but the infection aggravated an underlying heart condition, leading to a number of medical complications over the next year. He took a medical withdrawal from NWU during his junior year.

In December 2019, Standridge completed his theatre degree. While his journey came with many challenges, Standridge doesn’t see his experience any different from other students who face challenges along the way.

“I’m really lucky to have the family and friends that I do,” said Standridge. “I can say with absolute certainty, I would not have made it this far without them.”

“I especially owe my brothers in Theta Chi Fraternity for their companionship, understanding, and brotherhood.  Some of the hardest I’ve ever laughed was with those guys and I still routinely call them up today,” he added.

In May, Standridge was selected as this year’s Kenneth R. Holder Award winner, an honor that recognizes a graduating senior who has overcome significant challenges in obtaining their bachelor’s degree.

“I’ve routinely heard it said, ‘life is what happens when you are making plans’ and very rarely is our planned path the route that we actually end up taking,” he said. “Rather, one of the things that I think allowed me to overcome the obstacles that I faced was the support from administration and faculty. With their help, I found courses I could take to continue towards my degree while I was away from campus.”

Standridge is now back home in Houston where he is pursuing a career in songwriting and producing.

“I’m hopeful that once things calm down, I’ll be able to go out and perform in person again,” said Standridge whose performance name is Connor Davis. “But until then I have been trying to write as much as possible and record when the opportunity presents itself. There are even a few of my songs out there on Spotify and iTunes that recently came out.”

And he has his NWU degree to remind him of his possibilities.

“Having it framed on the wall is like looking back over and across the cliff face you just climbed,” he said. “It wasn’t easy and it certainly wasn’t always fun, but it was worth it to be able to appreciate the view and say you did it.”

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—Story by Danielle Anderson, public relations writer.