Arceneaux overcomes obstacles to receive LSU diploma

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Alexandra Arceneaux holds her service dog, Mishka's, honorary degree. Arceneaux battled back from Neuromyelitis optica, a condition that left her paralyzed from the shoulders down, to graduate on Dec. 16 with a degree in nutrition and food sciences from the LSU College of Agriculture.Photo by Tobie Blanchard

When Alexandra Arceneaux crossed the stage with her service dog, Mishka, at the LSU College of Agriculture commencement ceremony on Dec. 16 at the Maddox Fieldhouse, the crowd erupted in applause. To say Arceneaux’s journey to graduation had obstacles is to understate her struggle.

Arceneaux, of Bogalusa, La., came to LSU in 2008, but before she could finish her degree, she developed Neuromyelitis optica, a condition that left her paralyzed from the shoulders down.  

“It’s sort of like a cousin to multiple sclerosis,” Arceneaux said. “But it comes on suddenly.”

This was in 2012. Arceneaux spent the next year and half recovering in therapy. She regained use of her arms but remains in a wheelchair.  

“I could have continued in therapy to focus on walking, but I wanted to come to back to school and get my degree,” she said.

Arceneaux received her degree in nutrition and food sciences with a focus on food science and technology. She hopes to work in quality assurance in the food industry. 

“The program had everything I wanted out of science,” she said.  “My food science professors have been so supportive, realizing my limitations. I felt a sense of community in the program.”

Mishka, a Great Pyrenees, helped Arceneaux navigate the LSU campus. Mishka pulls Arceneaux’s wheelchair, but getting around campus presented some challenges, including squirrels that would sometimes distract Mishka.

AlexRichardsonLSU was very accommodating, Arceneaux said. She said she always felt comfortable asking for things she needed to make her experience better.

Arceneaux is now turning her focus to her career, but she said she still hopes to walk again 

“I’m young. There is a lot of technology to be developed, so I’m hopeful,” she said.

Arceneaux said she doesn’t feel like her quality of life is diminished because of her disability. With Mishka, she can live independently – he provides support when she is standing and is trained to pick up things for her.

“I am doing everything I want to do, and going where I want to go,” she said.

Mishka, who attended all of Arceneaux’s classes, received an honorary degree from the College of Agriculture at the commencement ceremony.