Michael O’Hearn brought thousands to their feet in a standing ovation when he left his wheelchair and walked across the stage at commencement in December 2018. His walk was not just a physical feat, but also a portrayal of his life's journey. “I want to be able to represent my improvement and the things I can do,” he said in the homestretch of months of preparation with a physical therapist.
Because of a rare degenerative disease, the 62-year-old has been using a wheelchair since 2002. The condition eventually kept him from working but also afforded him the time to pursue a long-abandoned dream to become a professional musician.
At university, the trumpeter and music major played his heart out with the university's concert band, symphony, jazz band and even the California Aggie Marching Band. Five years ago, he established the New Harmony Jazz Band, a semi-professional group in Davis that he continues to manage and play in.