Turning Storms into Stories

Bagwell Alum Pegues

KSU alum becomes Ms. Wheelchair USA and an advocate for the disabled Yvette Pegues believes there…

Georgia (Jul 7, 2015)

KSU alum becomes Ms. Wheelchair USA and an advocate for the disabled

Yvette Pegues believes there’s your plan, then there’s God’s plan. Her plan had been to graduate from Harvard University with a doctorate in educational leadership policy. Instead, she was crowned “Ms. Wheelchair USA.”

“The left side of my body just went numb, and there was this uncontrollable pain,” Pegues recalled. “I went to the emergency room, and basically what happened was my brain fell into my spine.”

Pegues was diagnosed with Chiari malformation. According to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, Chiari malformations are structural defects in the cerebellum, the part of the brain that controls balance. Normally, the cerebellum and parts of the brain stem sit in an indented space at the lower rear of the skull, above the foramen magnum (a funnel-like opening to the spinal canal). When part of the cerebellum is located below the foramen magnum, it is called a Chiari malformation.

“When I thought of getting an education policy degree, I wanted to impact education from the top down,” Pegues said. “When this happened, it wasn’t a period, it was a comma. I really feel like I’m able to touch families, and I don’t believe my intended Harvard degree would necessarily give me the satisfaction of working directly with children, as I have the privilege to do now.”

As “Ms. Wheelchair USA,” Pegues became the first African-American to win the crown, the first Georgian to win a national title and the first contestant to run on an education service platform. Her goal is to have 1 million children across the country publish their stories during her yearlong reign through her all-inclusive “Dream. Write. Hope. Foundation.”

“I want to provide assistance and support for children with all abilities and their families to turn storms into stories with the ‘Legacy of Literature’ program,” she said. “I’m finding in my life today that you can do so much more with an education degree than just preparing great minds in a traditional classroom.”

A former engineer with IBM, Pegues began taking early childhood education classes in the Bagwell College of Education when her eldest son was still a toddler. She returned to school, not because she wanted to be a classroom teacher, but because she wanted to be a better mother by understanding her child.

“It definitely helped me be a better parent,” she said. “It changed my life; it changed my children’s lives.”

Pegues served as vice president of the KSU Golden Key (Mu Epsilon chapter) honor society and graduated with a master’s degree in early childhood education in 2010. With her sights set on Harvard the following year, fate stepped in.

“I had to put everything aside to heal,” she said. “I attribute being able to function and communicate today to the crucial enrichment of my right brain that I developed at KSU.”

Also as a result of her teacher training at KSU, Pegues actively involved her two boys, at ages 5 and 7, in her recovery process. She helped them to author and publish, “My Mommy had Brain Surgery and I’m Okay!” a book handed out to families of patients with young children at the Shepherd Center in Atlanta, where she also rehabilitated.

“Living with a parent with a disability; a lot of kids don’t know how to relate,” Pegues said. “The book deals with questions and addresses bullying. I would not have had that idea or used that opportunity if I hadn’t gone to KSU.”

Pegues herself has also written two books; her latest is “The Art of Adaptability.” She is a motivational speaker and advocates for the disabled and is a motivational speaker. But, Pegues admits, there have been dark hours in her journey.

“It wasn’t easy, but I didn’t allow this to lock me in a room,” she said. “There is no prognosis for my physical recovery. Whether I spend the rest of my life sitting or standing, I will always be part of the disability community, and knowing I’m making an impact in the community of disability is worth getting up for. Life doesn’t end at your disability.”

And, indeed, Pegues’ did not.

“My transparency became my prosperity in truth, in life,” she said. “My high heel shoes are 6-to-8 inches because I don’t have to walk in them, but they look fabulous!”


-- Jennifer Hafer


A leader in innovative teaching and learning, Kennesaw State University offers undergraduate, graduate and doctoral degrees to its nearly 43,000 students. With 11 colleges on two metro Atlanta campuses, Kennesaw State is a member of the University System of Georgia. The university’s vibrant campus culture, diverse population, strong global ties and entrepreneurial spirit draw students from throughout the country and the world. Kennesaw State is a Carnegie-designated doctoral research institution (R2), placing it among an elite group of only 6 percent of U.S. colleges and universities with an R1 or R2 status. For more information, visit kennesaw.edu