STORY BY ANGELA UFHEIL
On Feb. 28, Drake University students gathered in Parents Hall to hear Stevie Hopkins speak.
Hopkins, who was diagnosed with Type 2 Spinal Muscular Atrophy when he was a baby, is the co-founder of 3E Love, a company he started with his sister that seeks to change people’s perceptions of individuals with disabilities. He travels around the country to share his story.
“I hope that you all learn something from it, not even learn something about disabilities, but about your own life,” Hopkins said. “You and I are more similar than we are different.”
Hopkins added humor throughout his speech. Stories about dating personal assistants while attending the University of Illinois were popular, as were images Hopkins painted of numerous wheelchairs taking up space in college bars.
“We learned that if we sat there and looked pitiful and cute enough, someone would buy us a drink,” Hopkins said.
But Hopkins struggled with feelings of worthlessness. “At the end of the day, I wasn’t happy,” Hopkins said. “I didn’t believe in myself.”
Hopkins’ sister, Annie, who shared his disability, was a bright point in his life. “She loves life no matter what the challenge or adversity is,” Hopkins said.
In 2009, Annie passed away due to complications with a feeding tube, so Hopkins decided to quit his job and travel the United States to spread her ashes.
“For the first time in my life, I truly lived,” Hopkins said.
Hopkins’ travels helped him find purpose in his life, and he now keeps Annie’s legacy alive through 3E Love.
“I wanted to tell the world about her,” Hopkins said. “How she wanted to spread the message that people with disabilities can achieve and be awesome.”
Drake’s Best Buddies chapter, an organization that creates friendships between individuals with and without disabilities, brought Hopkins to campus as a pre-cursor to the Spread the Word to End the Word week, a global campaign aimed at eliminating the use of the ‘r-word.’
“We felt it was a little too easy to just sign something,” said Conor Wells, who is president of Best Buddies at Drake. “So we wanted to have a big event before Spread the Word to End the Word week to get people thinking about why saying the ‘r-word’ could be harmful. Stevie was talking about exactly what we wanted.”
Wells said that Hopkins’ story is relatable because many college students struggle with self-doubt.
“The fact that he has a disability and was still having all these experiences may have made people realize that there’s not a whole lot of difference,” Wells said.
Sophomore Drake student Kaitlin Lacek was surprised by what she heard during the speech.
“I expected to hear him talk a little bit more about people with disabilities, as opposed to just his experiences in college,” Lacek said. “But it was really eye opening. It allowed me to see a different perspective.”
Hopkins received a lot of laughs, but ultimately left the audience more than humor.
He left students with a hopeful message.
“I found out how to love life, and how to love myself,” Hopkins said at the end of his speech. “Life is really awesome if you want it to be.”