has met Wynonna Judd and Jeff Foxworthy, most of the Atlanta Falcons and Atlanta
Braves, but none of them made the impact of an ordinary volunteer at the Egleston pediatric hospital in Atlanta. The kindly volunteer kept a young patient (and future UGA scholar) named Joey Tripp company while playing video games. Tripp, who completed UGA’s graduate program in nonprofit management from the University of Georgia’s Institute of Nonprofit Organizations, has worked through childhood conditions that might have daunted a lesser spirit. Tripp overcame formidable odds, becoming the first in his family to obtain a graduate degree. This is the remarkable story of Tripp’s internal navigational system, which never failed him, while facing the incredible set of obstacles to reach his goals.
hen Joey Tripp attended the UGA Graduate School’s Emerging Leader’s Program in Dillard, Ga., what some of his colleagues noticed was his uncanny resemblance to actor Daniel Radcliffe, who portrayed Harry Potter. “I also share the same birthday with Daniel Radcliffe (July 23rd)”. Like the fictional Potter, Tripp has a calm demeanor and twinkling magnetism. Also like Potter, he dealt with loss and overcame it to become an accomplished UGA graduate student chosen in 2013 for the prestigious Emerging Leaders program and a UGA “Amazing Student”. Unlike Potter, Tripp lacked the benefit of a wand or magic cloak, but nonetheless achieved feats that most would almost describe as pure magic.
On the first day of Emerging Leaders, Joey Tripp stood among the 25 chosen for the program in a large meeting room. Each of the graduate students was asked to write key attributes, listing self-descriptions on a large piece of poster paper underneath their photograph. This was part of the icebreaking exercises preceding a weekend of leadership training the students were to undergo. Tripp, a genial man with a youthful face, bright green eyes, and quick smile, considered before jotting down a laundry list of interests and characteristics. At the bottom of a list of attributes, he scrawled with a red marker, “childhood cancer
survivor.” In a room filled with exceptional students with amazing experiences, his statement stood apart. Tellingly, Tripp had written the comment last, like an afterthought. At the age of 10, Tripp received a terminal diagnosis for stage four osteosarcoma, or bone cancer. He was given six months to live. The cancer had grown at such a rate his medical advisors believed he had other tumors elsewhere in his body. It had spread from his femur to his lungs (twice), then his spine. Tripp quickly underwent the first of 30 surgeries he has undergone in the past 20 years. He relapsed with cancer four times during a seven-year fight. However, in no way did cancer define him, nor does it now. By the time you read this story, Tripp will be 30 years old.
The year Joey Tripp’s life changed was 1995. It was a Sunday morning when Tripp complained of sudden, specific and severe leg pain. His mother, who had decided to enter college as an adult, thought her son had a bad case of growing pains. She gave him a Tylenol before the family headed to church. Tripp tried to make it through the Sunday service, and began to weep as the pain grew unbearable. The family left church and drove one hour to the local emergency room in Macon, Ga., north of the farming community of Yonker.
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