Every day that Lauren Compere gently glides across the Mississippi College campus in her power wheelchair, she inspires people with her courage and determination.
Celebrating her 19th birthday on April 7, the MC freshman from Madison is a quadriplegic who’s faced enormous health challenges since she was a three month-old baby.
But God has helped Lauren along her journey to become an “A” student, a role model and future Christian counselor with a heart for people.
As a little girl, the Jackson native was diagnosed with cerebral palsy, a disorder of movement, muscle tone or posture. But due to education, therapy and technology, people with the disorder can lead productive lives. Nationwide, about 500,000 people have some degree of cerebral palsy that typically is a lifelong disability.
“For me, my obstacles are not as big as someone may think,” Lauren says. “I have been in a wheelchair my whole life, so that is all that I know. I am thankful that I have been disabled my whole life as opposed to being healthy and suddenly disabled.”
Her strong faith, a loving family and tons of friends bring her comfort as the Easter season approaches in early April and Christians worldwide reflect on the sacrifices of Jesus Christ on the cross. “I know that God is my Shepherd,” Lauren says. “Obstacles are very real, but they are also opportunities to show how good God is!”
Nicknamed “sunshine” by the Madison Central High principal, the 70-pound collegian always keeps a positive outlook, and continues to work hard in Mississippi College classrooms. Helped by personal care attendants 16 hours a day, Lauren spends two hours at her college dorm every morning to get ready for classes. Someone must help her get dressed, take medicine, assist with meals, take on transportation duties, and reach out with other routine tasks.
Mary Blaine, one of Lauren’s friends from Jackson, has known the Compere family the past six years.
“Daily life is hard,” Blaine says. “Imagine having to depend on someone for everything. She’s not able to take a bite of food or a sip of water without help. She can’t roll over in the bed, and she can’t scratch the top of her head.”
Still, Blaine noted the determined Mississippi College freshman turns the focus to things she can do. A psychology major and member of the Swannanoa Social Tribe, Lauren writes with a pencil or pen in her mouth. She texts and types with one thumb, and drives her power wheelchair all over the Clinton campus. An intelligent young woman with a sweet smile, Lauren is quite a talker in the cafeteria, in class or at informal gatherings on the Quad.
A worker at a Jackson area cancer clinic, Blaine volunteers as one of Lauren’s Mississippi College assistants. She appreciates Lauren’s “consistency, her heart for people and the Lord – she really is an amazing woman of God.”
Lauren’s decision to enroll at the Baptist-affiliated university wasn’t very difficult. Before becoming a 4th generation MC Choctaw, Lauren discovered the campus was accessible to handicapped students.
“The size of the campus is perfect for me. I feel like I know everyone and am able to get across the entire campus fairly quickly and easily,” Compere said. “But the best part of Mississippi College is the people. I have met so many amazing people, students, faculty and staff who have helped make MC my second home.”
Compere will play an even bigger role on campus in the fall. A member of the MC Scouts, she will serve as an orientation leader for the new freshmen class arriving in August.
Hailey Elder, an MC nursing student from Tomball, Texas, is happy for her friend’s accomplishments and strong Christian faith, while fully aware of the obstacles in her path.
Two of Hailey’s siblings have special needs. Her father serves as the director of Camp Blessing Texas, a Christian camp for children and young adults with physical and mental disabilities.
“Lauren is a true blessing in my life. She has the sweetest spirit and is always encouraging,” Elder said. “I know full well she is head over heels in love with her Savior.”
Elder spent her spring break in Port-Au-Prince, Haiti at an orphanage housing 15 severely handicapped people. They lacked properly fitting wheelchairs, and were without medical care to stop scoliosis from completely twisting their spines. Many of the children were abandoned because family members felt their deformity was a curse.
“After this life changing week of getting to love them, it makes me look at Lauren through completely different eyes,” Elder said. “It makes me realize how blessed she is to have been born in America with parents who love her, friends that adore her and an education system that believes in her.”
Last fall, Lauren Compere arrived at Mississippi College as a talented high school leader who served as Madison Central’s student body vice president her senior year. She instilled people with hope at the Madison school. “She inspired me to go back to college,” said Lisa Peloquin her personal assistant at Madison Central. “Working with Lauren has taught me many things, but mostly to never give up on my dreams.”
Her father, Richard Compere, an attorney who met his wife, Lisa, when they both were MC undergraduates in 1982, believes Lauren found the right place to attend college and continue to battle rigorous challenges.
“It has been a long, difficult road. Taking care of Lauren is emotionally and physically exhausting,” Richard Compere said. “But, God is so good. We have learned so much about God’s provision and love through the challenge. It is only when things are hard that true love can really be expressed.”
Like her younger brother, William, “Lauren has a love for Jesus that is infectious.”
A big part of her life, Lauren Compere thanks the many family members, friends, caregivers, and other “unsung heroes” for their love and support.