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Student Spotlight: Ciara Rivera

February 20, 2024

MIDDLETOWN, N.Y. – It is not uncommon for college students to change majors. A new experience, opportunity, or even a conversation can be the catalyst and, suddenly, it is time to shift toward a different goal. It is a time of discovery, development and increasing self-awareness that creates an ideal environment for unexpected changes. However, embracing the new direction and taking it in stride, as if part of the plan, is not always easy.

Comfortably adjusting to change, detours and obstacles have always been a part of Ciara Rivera’s life path. Born with neurofibromatosis Type I, congenital pseudarthrosis of the tibia, Rivera, age 20, explains, “When I was born, my left leg looked like a toothpick from the knee down. At four years old, my mother had to make the life-changing decision for me to have surgery after talking with my doctor and I had my left leg amputated.”

Having no memory of this time in her early childhood, the Milford, Pa., resident shares, “In total, I’ve had 27 surgeries in my life. I give my mom a lot of credit. She is my hero. She had to make that decision and people’s comments weren’t always very kind when asking her questions about my leg. A lot of assumptions were made (by others) about what happened to me, whether I was in an accident or had cancer, and really, it would be a lot easier if people would just ask.”

Before graduating from Delaware Valley High School, Rivera admits she faced her share of challenges.

"There were some bullies in middle school," she smiles in a matter-of-fact manner without lingering on the topic. During those pre-teen years Rivera was surprised to discover a fun activity during summer camp. "I loved playing wheelchair basketball from 7th to 11th grade," she shared.

Sitting at ease on a bench in Orange Hall, Rivera opened up in further detail about her goals and plans for the future. “I came to SUNY Orange and enrolled in the Occupational Therapy Assistant (OTA) program, but switched to education. I’m in my third semester but need an extra semester because I changed majors. I will graduate next Fall.

“I would love to teach preschool or maybe kindergarten, and look forward to education classes in the Spring. I took early childhood classes in high school and really liked them. It would be cool if someday I had a student in a wheelchair or an amputee,” Rivera said.

Asked if she feels her disability presented any specific challenges, her soft-spoken but self-assured response was, “I
don’t have a disability. I don’t hide my leg. I’m proud of it,” she states. “If I didn’t have this (amputation) I would be in a wheelchair and I wouldn’t be the person I am today. I am excited about continuing my education at SUNY New Paltz after SUNY Orange.”