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Meridith Hankenson Alexander

Year of Graduation: 
1977
Meredith Hankenson Alexander and her daughter Schuyler.

“That was it — boom. Instant world change.”

As Meridith Hankenson Alexander’s plane flew steadily southward one horrible night in February 2016, she was struck by the decision she had to make. Hours earlier, she’d received word that her daughter, Schuyler Arakawa, had been brutally crushed by a falling boulder as she swam with friends in a grotto during a whitewater rafting expedition in a remote area of Colombia.

“That was it — boom. Instant world change,” Alexander says. “They thought she was dead. The neurosurgeon told me it defied logic and imagination that she made it to the hospital. They told me they were going to try to keep her alive long enough for me to get down there,” she adds. Before she got off the plane, Alexander had decided she would do everything in her power to help her daughter have a miraculous outcome. “Inch by inch, I got myself mentally to the place that God or the universe had us covered,” she says.

Schuyler suffered catastrophic injuries, including facial and skull fractures, crushed lungs, a broken scapula and leg, a shattered ankle, and a spinal fracture. The promising Yale graduate went from a world traveler and entrepreneur with a megawatt smile to a hospital patient clinging to life. Her mother’s determined and deliberate mindset that she would survive set the tone for what has now become a joy-filled recovery, chronicled in Alexander’s 2017 bestseller The Sky Is the Limit. The book, which ranked as the No. 1 new release in Amazon’s motivational category, is framed around the uplifting messages Alexander posted on the Facebook page she created to keep family and friends informed following Schuyler’s accident. Those messages quickly garnered worldwide fascination and media attention, including coverage in the December 2017 issue of Prevention magazine.

Meredith Hankenson Alexander and SchuylerAs Alexander dedicates herself to helping her now 25-year-old daughter relearn how to stand, walk and talk, the Citrus Park, Florida, resident and mother of three has channeled her energies into helping others cope with loss and challenges too. Since the accident, she has become certified in neurolinguistic programming; she now speaks internationally about the power of a positive mindset and trains clients around the world in self-empowerment strategies. Alexander also contributes to #Bossbabe, an online publication for young female entrepreneurs, and she runs a thriving boutique agency for the performing arts — but Schuyler remains her first priority.

“Doctors project that people with a severe traumatic brain injury take seven to eight years to come back from it. We’re just two years into that,” Alexander says. “But we’re both positive people. There is never a depressed day, rarely a frustrated statement. We live in the moment, in the present. We find the joy. Not to be cliché, but this is what it is. The only other option is to be miserable throughout it. And that is not an acceptable option for us.”

Alexander continues to inspire thousands with her message of hope, which she believes has been a key part of her daughter’s recovery. In addition to hosting motivational seminars and retreats, she will soon launch an online course called Emboulden, designed to teach others to embrace their own personal boulders as gifts. “It’s not in spite of our boulders that we succeed,” she says. “It’s in thanks to them that we can overcome and soar.”

— Katie Fiermonti

Editor's note: This article first appeared in the summer 2018 issue of The Exeter Bulletin.