May 27, 2003

Richardson overcomes odds

By India Herndon

Harry Truman once said, “We can never tell what is in store for us.” Christ-opher Richardson’s young life certainly illustrates the meaning of his hero’s quotation.

Richardson, who graduated this spring with a bachelor’s in political science and history, was born to a low-income mother and abandoned by his father. At 15, he was diagnosed with bone cancer. Richardson then spent months in chemotherapy, becoming gravely ill and losing hope.

“When I was first diagnosed with cancer, I was really upset. I was angry with God. I was angry with the world. I didn’t feel as if it was really fair,” said Richardson, winner of the 2003 Lucius Lamar McMullan Award. “And then it hit me that it doesn’t have to be fair—life isn’t fair. Many times you’re going to be given the worst of circumstances. But as a human being, you have to be strong enough to construe those circumstances to your benefit.”

Richardson said he stopped “sulking” in his hospital bed and began traveling by wheelchair to visit with other cancer patients. Then an organization called Happy Days and Special Times sent him on a trip to Disney World, which renewed his spirit enough to survive many more months of chemotherapy. He lost a knee and part of a lung but fully recovered.

In return, he has spent every summer since 1996 working with children with cancer at Camp Happy Days. He also is a spokesperson and promoter for the American Cancer Society.

During his four years at Emory, Richardson fulfilled two presidencies. As president of the Undergraduate College Council his junior year, he concentrated on social issues by creating a computer-donation program for Atlanta’s inner-city youth and planning an appreciation day for the student cafeteria staff.

The next year, as Student Government Association president, Richardson focused his efforts on policy issues like student financial aid, and his thoroughly researched financial-services report to the University has effected discussion and change in the financial aid office. The McMullan Award, endowed by alumnus William Matheson in honor of his uncle, awards $20,000 to a graduating Emory College senior who has demonstrated outstanding citizenship and leadership.

With the gift, Richardson said he plans to pay off loans, do some traveling and buy a new china cabinet for his mother. He will spend the next year in Atlanta developing an outreach program to provide legal services to cancer patients.

Richardson said his future plans include law school, the state department and foreign service.