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Historymaker Sean Gold is Set to Graduate

St. Louis Community College will celebrate commencement Saturday, May 21, at Chaifetz Arena on the campus of Saint Louis University, marking both small and monumental accomplishments for graduating students. There are as many stories as there are graduates, and with this special series, we celebrate all of our 2022 graduates with stories about five students who demonstrate in their own way what it takes to earn a degree. The first story is below; a new story will publish each day the week of May 16-20, leading up to the commencement ceremony.


Sean Gold Just two months ago, Sean Gold made history as the first student speaker for staff development day in St. Louis Community College’s 60 years.

Gold will add a new accolade – college graduate – to his already impressive list of accomplishments when he “turns the tassel” at the St. Louis Community College Commencement Ceremony May 21. He will earn an associate degree in general transfer studies. 

During his address, Gold, 22, spoke about being a college student with physical challenges to approximately 600 virtual attendees via a prerecorded 12-minute video. This is remarkable because Gold is nonverbal. He was born with athetoid cerebral palsy, a physical impairment that negatively impacts his muscle tone, balance, movement, and posture. The disorder causes him to move uncontrollably. His airway was also closed at birth, so he often struggles to catch his next breath.

Because of his physical challenges, Gold has used a tracheostomy tube to breathe since he was 18 months old.

Perseverance Pays Off

Navigating college has been an arduous five-year journey for Gold, because it takes him twice as long to perform tasks that many people do easily. He has taken a semester off here and there, but he persevered and will finally complete his degree. He has no plans to stop checking off goals.

“To ask me what I want to be in life is interesting. My simple answer is an author and advocate for people with disabilities,” Gold said.

Serving as student speaker for staff development day gave him a relished opportunity to practice his craft and allow people to walk in his shoes, if only for a moment.

“Living with a physical disability myself has caused some setbacks in my own life and it still does today. Part of the reason why it's so difficult is because of the pre-assumptions made by many people without disabilities,” he said. 

“I know that everyone in the world has some type of disability, but there's still a big difference between seeing me as someone with less ability to do something versus seeing me as someone with a disability. I think that the biggest one would be that I can't communicate or understand what people are saying, which is stupid. While I can't verbally communicate, I can still communicate.”

Gaining Access

Amy Bird, director of the access office, met Gold in spring 2017 when he graduated from North County Technical High School in the Special School District of St. Louis County. She described him as a very bright and capable student who knows how to advocate for himself. Students like Gold is why Bird’s job exists. 

“The purpose of the access office is to ensure that students have the necessary supports (extended time for tests or accessible desks, for example) to demonstrate their knowledge,” Bird said. “Once those supports are in place, we step out of the way. Nothing is more crucial to the advancement of equity than to stress that the individual with the disability is the one who owns their success.”  

When he found it difficult to remember equations, Gold appreciated the access office arranging for him to use a formula sheet for math classes.

The coronavirus pandemic brought an unlikely but welcome accommodation in Gold’s opinion – he finally had the option to take classes virtually. 

“I find it hilarious that the things that disabled people have been begging for decades to get you as an able-bodied person got it in two weeks in the beginning of the lockdown,” he said.

He hopes the College keeps virtual options in place. He calls it disability justice. 

“My favorite accessibility has been my live virtual lecture classes. That's one major thing that I hope never goes away, even after the pandemic,” he said. “By having the option to be in class virtually, not just by online forums, is disability justice. It's a right that should be given to us instead of taken away once it's over. I can guarantee that more disabled students will pick those options for their schedule.”

Gold has many reasons for this preference. Foremost is accessibility. 

“I don't have to rely on my family to drive me to and from classes, which takes away from their work time. The biggest thing that disabled people want is independence. I didn’t need to wait for anyone.”

Gold thinks that removing virtual learning from future semesters would be a huge setback for the College. 

“That would be ableist,” he said, noting that ableism is discrimination or prejudice against people who have disabilities. 

Raising Awareness

Although it is oftentimes unintentional, Gold said most people are completely unaware of the impact of their words or actions. 

The advocate plans to continue to use his influence to raise awareness about challenges differently-abled individuals face, and Gold is not afraid to point out the inequity of what he calls able-bodied privileges, or the advantages enjoyed by those without disabilities. 

“The pandemic just keeps proving how little people value the disabled community,” Gold said. 

After graduation, Gold is uncertain if he will work in a traditional in-person position due to the pandemic, but he hopes to sign with a speakers’ agency. Besides public speaking, Gold will continue to write and has two books in the works.

Bird said she has greatly enjoyed and appreciated the opportunity to work with Gold over these past few years. 

“I often seek his advice on advocacy and best practices for students with disabilities,” she said. 

“Sean’s connections to Washington University in St. Louis and occupational therapy made our sensory room a reality. Sean will attend the University of Missouri-St. Louis in the fall. I look forward to keeping in contact with him as he continues his educational journey.”

Gold captured 8,200 views for his “The Obstacles of Disabilities” TEDx talk in 2019 and has since garnered 20,000 followers on TikTok and Instagram. He published the book “Pure Love or is it?” available on Amazon.com, Barnes and Noble and GoodReads in 2021.


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