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Student veteran returns to US and becomes leader on campus
Stu Presley woke on the morning of Oct. 15, 2003, to numbness in his right leg.
“I figured ‘OK, I got a little crazy last night,’” Presley said. “I thought as the day went on the feeling would go away.”
Instead, the numbness increased. Two days later, it had moved to his left leg. Doctors said at best, it was a pinched nerve or at worst, a cancerous tumor pushing against his spine.
Five weeks later, the then-21-year-old was diagnosed with adult-onset multiple sclerosis.
Today, Presley is a senior English major who hopes to start student teaching next fall on his way to becoming a high school English teacher.
“The hardest part about it was them telling me that I have to go home,” said Presley, who was in the Army at the time. “We have this saying, ‘you can take me out of the uniform but you can’t take the uniform out of me.’ The uniform is still very much in me, in everything I do.”
Multiple sclerosis, or MS, is a chronic, often disabling disease that attacks the central nervous system. Symptoms may be mild, such as numbness in the limbs, or severe, such as paralysis or loss of vision.
“I’m reminded daily of things that I can’t do,” Presley, now 30, said. “It takes an average man 10 minutes to get ready. It takes me 30 minutes to an hour just because I can’t move the way everybody else does.”
Some of the problems he has encountered include color blindness, paralysis, difficulty transferring short-term memory to long-term memory, and bouts of depression.
Even though he is in a wheelchair, Presley is always around campus doing things for the various clubs and organizations he’s involved in.
Before the diagnosis, Presley still led a busy life. The oldest of seven siblings, the Dallas native graduated with his homeschooling G.E.D. when he was 17.
“He was always doing something new with his life,” said Aaron Presley, his brother and a sophomore business major. “His maturity really spoke for a lot because the rest of us were still little kids. He always held his composure.”
After graduating high school, Presley worked full-time and took a few college courses, then enlisted in the Army in March of 2000.
“I’m a patriot,” Presley said. “I felt the obligation and the patriotic urge to serve my country because it was for more than just me.
After boot camp, he was assigned to active duty in the United States and in South Korea, 25 kilometers from the northern border. He was in Denver, Colo. when he was diagnosed with MS.
He left the service in November 2004. Presley enrolled at UNT in fall 2010 after completing his basics at Grayson County College.
“I chose UNT for a couple of reasons,” Presley said. “It’s ranked in the top five of veteran-accepted universities in the United States and their English department is internationally acclaimed. I wanted a place where I could learn with the best of the best.”
Presley is a member of the Greek Programming Board and a founding father of Phi Kappa Tau fraternity.
“He works hard, and it shows in his grades and influence on campus,” said Kannon Callis, member and public communications sophomore.
Presley is also involved in non-Greek organizations including the Student Government Association, the Multicultural Center Buddy System, Student Alumni Association, Student Veteran Association and multiple honor societies.
“Stu is one of the most caring, dedicated students I have met at UNT,” Dean of Students Maureen McGuinness said. “His heart is genuine, and his love for his country, Greek Life and UNT is truly admirable.”
Presley is also an independent business owner, partnering with Amway to market everything from energy drinks to make-up.
“I got started in the business in January,” Presley said. “Basically, whatever you use on a daily basis, I have access to it.”
As his college career comes to an end, Presley looks towards the future. He hopes to become a high school English teacher while still running his business and eventually, become his own boss.
“My biggest goal out of life is to be able to show people how they can take their own situation and find satisfying achievement without relying on the government or somebody else to do it,” Presley said.