Graduate student overcomes unbelievable odds to degree

Darius Whitted will join more than 300 students at The Graduate School commencement ceremony at Givens Performing Arts Center on Friday, May 13, 2022

Darius Whitted’s story is one of perseverance, courage, inspiration and pure grit.

He beat the odds—twice—on his journey to earning two degrees at UNC Pembroke.

The St. Pauls native has overcome challenges his entire life. But he refused to give up. He is lucky to be alive after surviving a tragic accidental shooting that left him paralyzed when he was only three.

The near-fatal incident in 2002 may have altered his mobility, but Whitted didn’t let his disability limit the pursuit of his dreams. After high school, he attended UNCP where he received a degree in business in 2020.

Now 23, Whitted will cross the UNCP stage––yet again––this time, pausing to receive a hood, signifying the completion of his MBA degree.

“I’m pretty proud,” he said. “When I think about how far I’ve come, I can hardly believe it. Throughout grade school, high school and college, I’ve been focused on getting good grades. I always knew the best route for me was getting a good education and receiving a college degree would push me further to where I want to be in life.”

This evening, Whitted joins 314 master’s students in The Graduate School at Spring Commencement. The ceremony will begin at 7 p.m. at Givens Performing Arts Center and be livestreamed, on the university’s YouTube channel. The undergraduate ceremony will begin at 9 a.m. on Saturday, May 14.

Whitted’s dream is to establish a mentorship program where individuals with disabilities can gain knowledge and resources, especially those seeking to further their education.

“I see myself being a business leader one day,” he said. “I want to give back and help others with disabilities succeed.”

Whitted remained involved in campus life, serving as vice president of his fraternity, Phi Beta Sigma. He worked as a graduate assistant for two years in the Thomas School of Business.

Bishwa Koirala, an associate professor in the Department of Economics and Decision and Sciences, taught Whitted in several of his undergraduate and graduate-level courses. Koirala said Whitted stood out—not because of his disability— but his confidence, energy and passion.

“I didn’t see any difference between Darius and other students in my class,” said Dr. Koirala. “He is purely an output-oriented student. He worked with me as a grad assistant for several difficult data analysis projects and he was always obedient, output-oriented and time-sensitive. He is a great guy.”

A highlight of his academic career happened in 2019 when he served as host for the Night of All Nations organized by the Office of Student Inclusion and Diversity.

“That was something new for me,” he said. “I was nervous because it was a big event. But Dr. (Nicolette) Campos was backstage supporting me, and soon all the jitters went out the window. It went great.”

Whitted is feeling anxious about life after UNCP. However, he relies on the advice of his 94-year-old great grandmother Evelyn Lewis—who helped raise him and who often encouraged him through the tough time while earning his degrees.  

“She was always there for me, even at my lowest (times),” he said. “She would always tell me that I had the ability to do everything for myself. I want to make her and my family proud. That’s the motivation that keeps me moving forward.

“I know what I want in life, and nothing is going to stop me until I reach it. Never underestimate me just because I’m in a wheelchair.”