The first thing you notice about Rebekah Tate is her smile; it’s likely the brightest one in any sea of student faces. Then you might observe a certain bounce in her step. Through the cloud of cheerfulness that surrounds her, it takes a minute before you see that one of her legs is brightly patterned and has a metal hinge at the knee.
Tate lost her right leg to muscle cancer when she was 10 moths old — too small to remember, but she has seen pictures. Her first prosthetic leg was peach colored and too tiny for a knee hinge. But her newest leg has a 360-degree knee hinge, plus a pivoting foot. “I can sit cross-legged for the first time,” she said. “Before, when I worked at a camp, my legs were always sticking out into the circle.” More importantly, she can wear cowboy boots now.
Tate talks openly about the challenges of growing up as the one who is different, and she is accustomed to questions. “Sometimes people stare,” she said. “Little kids will just come up and ask, ‘What happened to your leg?’ or ‘You have a robot leg?’ A lot of adults will say my dad or my sister has one of those, and we’ll share our stories.”
A senior secondary math major, Tate said that teachers were often a support to her. “One of the teachers I admired was my PE teacher,” Tate said. “She knew I had limitations, but she knew I didn’t have that many. She would say, ‘Why don’t you give it a try,’ instead of ‘Can you do that?’ I needed teachers who pushed me.”
But in math class, Tate doesn’t need much pushing, because she loves the subject. And she never struggled — until her junior year at Baylor.
“I didn’t like that I couldn’t do the math right away,” she said. “But it showed me what my students might be going through. When the professor asked if anyone had questions, I did not raise my hand, even though I had lots of questions. So the struggle was good; I learned the subject and some important life and teaching lessons also.”
Tate fell in love with Baylor as a high school student at a summer camp. But she knew she would need financial help to attend. In addition to a general Baylor scholarship and math department scholarship, Tate receives the Olive M. Denson Endowed Scholarship from the School of Education.
“I’m really lucky to be here for the excellent education program and the early and extensive teaching experience I’ve received,” she said. “If I didn’t have scholarships, I wouldn’t be at Baylor.”
Tate admits that she still has an occasional “why me” day. “There are days when I wish I had two legs, because who doesn’t?” she said. “But I realize it made me part of who I am. It doesn’t define me, but the way I do life is different.”
She said hearing the stories of other people has also opened her eyes. “I used to think a lot of other people didn’t have problems, because it wasn’t a visible problem,” she said. “But now I see everyone has things they are dealing with, so I try to view people differently.”
And because she does not like people staring at her, she makes sure her own gaze is friendly. “Instead I try to smile,” she said. “I know it brightens someone’s day, because it brightens mine.”
—By Meg Cullar