The lyrics “To grow in knowledge, truth and strength, our journey never ends” in Troy University’s Alma Mater have a special meaning to a recent TROY alumnus who had three major surgeries before he was 4 months old.
Jon Logan Horton, a former history major from Grove Hill, Alabama, says his journey just kept continuing when it should have ended much sooner.
Horton was born on Jan. 26, 1993, four months before he was due, and weighed 1 pound 11 ounces. He was born with translucent skin, a grade one cranial bleed, a cleft palate, mild cerebral palsy on the left side of his body and bronchopulmonary dysplasia, a condition where the air sacs in the lungs are not fully developed.
“This was during a time when they had a lot of issues dealing with premature births, and a lot of children that were born in the hospital I was born in passed away, actually,” he said. “There were many times after my birth where they thought I wasn’t going to make it.”
He spent the next four months in the hospital fighting for his life. He was put on experimental drugs to help build his lungs, took medication to help develop his skin tone and had surgery to repair a double hernia. He even still has the scars from open heart surgery and from having an IV inserted into the top of his head.
“They couldn’t cut me straight down like they normally do because my body was so small, so they had to cut horizontally on the left side of my body rather than vertically,” he said.
His struggles continued through infancy to adolescence. He spoke with a stutter, had impaired motor skills, wore braces for six years to fix the damage the cleft palate had done to the roof of his mouth and his teeth, had surgery for a second potential brain bleed and suffered from a weakened immune system.
Things most people take for granted, like learning to write neatly or driving a car, were constant worries.
“Whenever I write, I get cramps really bad in my hands,” he said. “I can’t write for more than 15 minutes without it hurting. When I turned 15, I really wondered how driving was going to work for me. It didn’t affect me like I thought it would, so that was really good.”
During his elementary and middle school years, he went to physical therapy, speech therapy and special education math classes under his Individualized Education Program, or IEP, and never really felt like he fit in.
“I got picked on a lot in elementary school due to the way I spoke and my mannerisms and things like that,” he said. “I thought that I wouldn’t be accepted by other people. I had a really deep fear of how other people would perceive me.”
“Upon the mighty walls of TROY, we meet our life-long friends.”
When Horton started his college career at TROY in the fall of 2011, those feelings followed him until he met the brothers of the Lambda Chi Alpha fraternity.
“They treated me like I wasn’t different,” he said. “They treated me like I was a normal person, and that’s something that I struggled with growing up. I was always concerned that people were going to view me differently. They treated me like I was family.”
“To grow in knowledge, truth and strength, our journey never ends.”
He found his niche at TROY from that point on. He earned a 3.08 GPA during his first semester, developed close relationships with Dr. John Kline, distinguished professor of leadership, Mr. Joe McCall, senior lecturer of history, and Dr. Aaron Hagler, assistant professor of history, and was accepted into Phi Alpha Theta, a national history honor society.
“I first met Logan in 2010 when he was a candidate at the Youth Leadership Forum for high school students with disabilities,” Kline said. “Imagine how excited I was when he came to TROY and then when I actually had him as my student in two classes.
“The amazing thing about him is his disability did not hinder him. He finished near the top in both classes made up of both leadership development minors and honor students.”
“With the promise of the future, and the guidance of the past…”
Even though he was finding success, he still struggled with the problems caused by his premature birth. He worried about how professors would react to his accommodation letters, if they would be able to able to read his handwriting, how he would handle living on his own for the first time and even about how his body would cope with walking across campus all day. He said he just had to do it to get through it.
“I had to (hand in letters) for every class, and it wasn’t a big deal,” he said. “My professors were very understanding and worked with me. They weren’t as judging as I thought college professors would be.”
“We pledge our solemn vow to thee, loyal everlast.”
Horton graduated from TROY last July with a 3.27 GPA, a plan for his life and a confidence he said he had never experienced before.
He plans to attend graduate school for his master’s in teaching in 2017 and is currently substitute teaching for Clark and Washington County schools while planning a wedding with his fiancé, Kelsey Reynolds. He also plans to return to TROY to pursue a second master’s degree in history.
“I want to positively impact students and give them a desire to be lifelong learners,” he said.
“So raise our mighty Trojan sword, a beacon to the world!”
Horton has become an advocate for those with learning or physical disabilities and encourages the student body to become advocates, too.
“If you’re in college and have a disability, my advice would be not to focus on what holds you down, but to own it,” he said. “Wake up and tell yourself every day that it’s going to be good day. Focus on your character traits, the things that make you blossom, and surround yourself with people that you trust.
“To the student body: people who have disabilities may look or act or seem different, but at the end of the day, all of us are the same. We’re human beings that are trying to accomplish the same goals.”
“Throughout the ages brightly shines, the guiding light of TROY.”