Thursday, 20 May 2021 14:48

Artie Stewart navigates not so easy road to college degree

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Artie Stewart, who has been legally blind for nearly 20 years, will graduate from UNCP at the age of 60. Artie Stewart, who has been legally blind for nearly 20 years, will graduate from UNCP at the age of 60. UNCP

PEMBROKE — Legally blind, Artie Stewart earned an associate degree in business management three years ago.  


On Saturday, Stewart will defy the odds, again, during spring commencement at The University of North Carolina at Pembroke when he joins 1,045 graduates. 

The 60-year-old has been a source of inspiration for countless students and professors along his academic journey. However, when he crosses the stage, his thoughts will be with John Arthur and Marie Stewart–his late parents and the reason he refused to give up on his dream of finishing his college degree. 

“I know my parents are very proud of me,” he said. “They were both college graduates and retired educators, so that will be an emotional moment for me.” 

UNCP leaders are pleased to offer graduates and family members a return to a traditional in-person commencement. The Graduate School ceremony will be held at 6 p.m. on Friday. The undergraduate exercises will begin at 9 a.m. on Saturday. Both ceremonies will be in the Quad between Livermore Library and Old Main. 

Stewart’s wife, Fanina, and son, Jacob — a senior at UNCP­ — will be in the audience to celebrate this latest milestone. He also has a strong support system across campus, from the sociology department faculty to the staff at the Accessibility Resource Center. 

Professor Abby Reiter said Stewart wasn’t deterred by his visual impairment during his pursuit of a sociology degree.  

“He is such an inspiration to his classmates. I would look forward to reading his discussion conversations with students. They were typically thoughtful and insightful but also very friendly and uplifting. I love that his positive attitude has been a motivation to others.” 

During group discussions, he shared stories of his 32-year battle with diabetes, his fight with depression after losing his eyesight at age 41 and his grueling year and a half of dialysis treatments before a kidney donor was found in 2007.  

After overcoming life’s challenges, Stewart was determined to finish the degree he first began out of high school.  

“I enrolled at UNCP in 1979, but dropped out after three semesters. I wasn’t focused.” 

He spent most of his career in the restaurant and food industry before his health began to decline. With assistance from the North Carolina Division of Services for the Blind, the Lions Club and others, Stewart enrolled in school.  

After graduation, he plans to take time off before applying to UNCP’s Master of Social Work program to become a licensed social worker or counselor.    

“There are a lot of young folks in this area who need something to give them hope. I want to be that motivation. If a legally blind 60-year-old man — with everything I’ve gone through — can earn a college degree, then so can they.”