“It kind of feels like I'm not supposed to be here,” Andee Poulos says when asked how it feels to be graduating from the University of South Carolina. Poulos has earned her bachelor’s degree in sport and entertainment management, excelling in one of the best programs of its kind in the world, but on one level, she is right. She was not supposed to be here.
Poulos was only 14 when she suffered a severe stroke. A connection between arteries and veins ruptured in her brain. She survived, but was unable to speak or walk or even eat. The stroke was a bad one. Her chances of survival the day it happened were only 5 percent. Doctors told her parents she would never walk or talk again, much less return to school. She was never supposed to be here.
But here she is, despite the odds. Poulos learned to talk again. She walks now with only occasional help from a cane. She returned to high school two years after her injury, then was accepted at South Carolina. Despite her challenges, the Georgia native pursued her dream school out of state, away from her support network. She joined a sorority (Phi Mu), repeatedly made the Dean’s List and President’s List for her outstanding grades and earned a scholarship endowed by Darlington Raceway. She lived first in a dorm, then a sorority house, then off campus. She is, in every way, a successful, independent college student, even though she was not supposed to be here.
“I have to give glory to God for helping me,” she says. “I did way more than I thought I could do. I was always raised where I had to put in the effort if I wanted to get better at something. And I guess that's what's helped drive me to get to where I am.”
She has also worked to give back. Shortly after her stroke, family and friends created Andee’s Army, a nonprofit devoted to helping pay medical costs for children with brain and spinal cord injuries. The organization has raised millions of dollars since its founding, and Poulos has played a key part since her recovery, recruiting volunteers, serving at events, and sharing her story as a speaker.
Poulos has formed close relationships with her professors at South Carolina, starting with College of Hospitality, Retail and Sport Management Assistant Dean of Diversity and Inclusion and Senior Clinical Instructor Adonis “Sporty” Jeralds.
“My first class that I took in my major was with him. So he has been with me and we check in on each other,” she says. “Every teacher I've had in the program has been special.”
Jeralds, who invited Poulos to share her story with College of HRSM faculty and staff at an event last fall, says he thinks of Poulos as a triple threat: smart, engaging and inspiring.
“I have seen her mature and grow so much over the years. Andee is a very smart young lady who took the initiative to ask me to do an independent study with her in venue management when the course was not offered in the fall of 2021,” Jeralds says. “I asked Andee to engage with our Diversity and Inclusion Committee members so they could understand some of the things students with mobility challenges face as they try to navigate our campus. I remember her mobility challenges as a freshman and being inspired by her grit and determination to sit at the front of the class of 210 students each day at 8 a.m.”
Strong and determined as she is, Poulos has also learned it is not a bad thing to ask for help or accept it when someone offers. It wasn’t until her junior year on campus that she began utilizing some of the services available to students with disabilities, such as the campus shuttle.
“I'm a very prideful person and I don't like to take charity. I felt like that's what it was,” she says. “But then when I finally gave in to it, I could see how helpful it was. They're not trying to make you feel like you can't do it on your own. They're just trying to help you get there.”
Despite all the odds, Poulos did get there. She will graduate with honors and has a bright career in sport marketing ahead of her. She recently completed an internship with The L.A. Office, a Los Angeles-based marketing agency, which helped shape her goals.
“I want to work with either a sports team or an agency, because as I've learned, agencies get to work with more than one team,” she says. “It feels like I was a freshman yesterday and looking forward to all that was coming and this college experience, and now fast forward, it's been five years and I can't believe I'm already done.”