Graduate Douglas Hill: With disabled daughter as inspiration, he sets new family standard as first-gen grad

Hill and family

Douglas Hill seemed to be leading the perfect life.

He graduated high school, fell in love with and married the girl next door, then shortly after he enrolled in classes at Glendale Community College, he and his wife found out they were expecting.

But the fairy tale ends there.

Some say there is no greater joy than the birth of a child. For the Hill family, there was no greater fear. After just passing the half-way point of her pregnancy, at 23 weeks gestation, Hill’s wife went into labor—more than four months early.

Miraculously, their daughter was born alive, but as a micro preemie at just 1 pound 8 ounces. Baby Madison would be facing an uphill battle for the rest of her life—assuming she could survive long enough.

“When I was finally able to hold my daughter for the first time, she was smaller than my hand,” Hill said. “She was so young that her eyes were still fused shut, and I could see her heart beating through her almost transparent skin.”

Because her organs had not fully developed in the womb, Madison underwent several surgeries. At one month, she had a PDA ligation open heart surgery. Then, just two months later, she had an eye injection surgery, followed by laser eye surgery two months after that. She spent the first five months of her life in the neonatal intensive care unit, living off respirators and breathing machines.

Finally, at 6 months old, she was stable enough to be released from the hospital, but because her eyes, ears and lungs never fully developed, she faces life-long vision, hearing and breathing issues.

Raising a daughter with disabilities while working full time is tough enough. But Hill was determined to provide for his family and felt an education was the only way to do so. After earning his associate’s degree, he transferred to Northern Arizona University to pursue a degree in history to not only provide for his family, but also set a new standard for his daughter.

“Nobody in my family has ever even gotten an associate’s degree, let alone attended a university or obtained a bachelor’s degree,” Hill said. “I am so proud to be the first in my family in a hopefully long line of highly educated and successful people. Graduating from NAU has given me the feeling of accomplishment and pride and motivation that I need to conquer any goals I set forth in my life from this moment forward.”

On Friday, with his wife and now 5-year-old daughter in the audience, Hill will graduate as the 2018 Most Outstanding Graduating Senior in History. He plans to teach high school history before starting a master’s program in history at NAU in the fall. Eventually, he hopes to earn a Ph.D. and teach history at the college level.

“I aim to be a lifelong learner, husband, father, friend, teacher, professor, author and Lumberjack. NAU has changed my life in so many ways and I will forever be thankful and grateful for my time here.”

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Carly Banks | NAU Communications
(928) 523-5582 |

NAU Communications