Quadriplegic single mother graduates Bowen law school

Jennifer Goodwin celebrates her graduation from Bowen School of Law with her parents, Robby and Tracy Goodwin, and son, Beckham.

In 2008, Jennifer Goodwin seemed to have it all. 

After two years on the road working in pharmaceutical sales, the then-25-year-old had recently been promoted to her “dream job” of drug representative, moved back to her hometown of Benton, and bought her first home.

Her life changed dramatically when Goodwin suffered a spinal cord injury while boating on Lake Hamilton with a neighbor.

After overcoming enormous obstacles, Goodwin, 34, graduated May 13 from the University of Arkansas at Little Rock William H. Bowen School of Law.

After her injury, Goodwin still had feeling in her limbs, meaning that the spinal cord was not severed and she could regain some movement. She began an intense campaign to regain what she had lost, with the ultimate goal of walking again.

During the first year after her injury, she spent two months in the hospital and another four months in in-patient rehabilitation.

“Initially, my goal was to get my hand high enough to scratch my nose,” she said. “I had to relearn how to feed myself and brush my teeth. I couldn’t do any of that in the beginning.”

In 2010, Goodwin joined an intensive, six-month rehabilitative therapy trial in Atlanta.

“I got to the point where I could walk down and back on a basketball court, but it took a walker, two assistants, and electronic stimulation,” she said. “When I got done with that therapy program, I realized I wasn’t going to walk, short of a miracle. I was able to learn to let go of walking and learn to live.”

Focused on rebuilding her life, Goodwin bought a new home and learned to live independently. After deciding that she is not the type of person to sit home all day, Goodwin thought about what she wanted to do with the rest of her life. Her thoughts landed on an old dream of going to law school.

Goodwin bought a book and studied for the LSATs, the entrance exam needed to enter law school. She did so well that she received a full scholarship to Bowen School of Law.

In August 2013, Goodwin met her fellow law school students at what turned out to be a highly memorable mixer in the basement of the Flying Saucer. An unknown thief stole the keys to the elevator, leaving Goodwin trapped in the basement.

“The Little Rock Fire Department had to haul me and my 400-pound chair from the basement,” Goodwin said. “I think everyone from my class remembers that night. I made a lot of really good friends. None of my classmates left until I got to leave that night. I thought that was nice.”

Goodwin’s fellow classmates became a great source of support. Because of her injury, Goodwin is slow at taking notes and typing. Her classmates shared copies of their class notes and study guides. She was also inspired by two professors.

Bowen Professor Ranko Shiraki Oliver and Jennifer Goodwin
Bowen Professor Ranko Shiraki Oliver and Jennifer Goodwin

“Professor Michael Flannery and Professor Ranko Shiraki Oliver both went out of their way to make me feel comfortable and do anything I needed,” Goodwin said. “They were very supportive and helpful.”

In 2014, she interned with the nonprofit organization, Disability Rights Arkansas, where she worked with lawyers to provide pro bono legal assistance to people with disabilities in Arkansas.

While in law school, Goodwin decided to tackle another lifelong dream — becoming a mother.

She had considered adoption, but knew agencies would not be lining up to give a baby to a single, quadriplegic woman.

“I decided I wanted to be a mom more than I could breathe,” she said. “I was 31 and knew the clock was ticking. With my doctor’s and family’s support, I picked an anonymous donor and did artificial insemination.

Beckham Goodwin arrived in June 2015. He was named after Goodwin’s maternal grandparents, who had the last name of Beck. Goodwin’s grandparents both died while she was pregnant and never had the chance to meet their great-grandson and namesake.

“I took the fall 2015 semester off to figure out how to be a mom, because there are so many more challenges when you are quadriplegic also,” Goodwin said. “I went back to school part time, and it certainly has its challenges, but I had lots of family support. My parents and aunt all stepped up to help babysit when I had late night reading sessions.”

Now that she has graduated, Goodwin will spend the summer preparing for the bar exam. Once she passes, Goodwin will begin a two-year fellowship at Arkansas Children’s Hospital through Equal Justice Works, a Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit that focuses on careers in public service for lawyers. A professor, Dr. Amy Pritchard, suggested she apply.

“Since I have a spinal cord injury, I want to work with patients in the disabled population,” Goodwin said. “I want to give back to all the people that have poured into my life when I had the spinal cord injury nine years ago.”

As Goodwin reflects on the obstacles she overcame, she is glad she had the strength to live her life to the fullest.

“I’ve learned to go after my dreams and that nothing is impossible,” she said. “I’ve also learned to be willing to ask for help and that there are lots of great people in this world. I am a firm believer that the right doors open at the right time. With God, anything is possible.”

In the upper right photo, Jennifer Goodwin celebrates her graduation from Bowen School of Law with her parents, Robby and Tracy Goodwin, and son, Beckham.

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