Paul An
CPP Magazine

United by Differences

Recent Grad Shines Light on Students With Disabilities

By Melanie Johnson

Paul An grew up hearing what he was never going to do.

Born with the rare genetic disease Duchenne muscular dystrophy (DMD), which attacks and weakens the body’s muscles, the 2020 graduate was told at an early age that he would never walk, play sports or be very successful academically.

An, who gets around in a wheelchair, says he has battled depression over the years as a result of his DMD. One thing that has helped him grapple with the disease is sharing his story.

Two years ago, he created United with Differences, an annual event on campus that would put a spotlight on the disabled.

“I had this vision to create an event where people with disabilities could be heard,” says An (’20, business administration), who was a transfer student from Mt. San Antonio College. “I wanted to give people with disabilities a platform.”

The inaugural event in 2019 featured four speakers from campus and a keynote address by Stephanie Aiello, a makeup artist who became a quadriplegic after a car accident.

The second annual event in February 2020 featured four speakers from campus, including An, who grew up in Toronto. It was planned by the CLASS Council as part of Disability Pride Week.

The campus community was very supportive of United with Differences, An says. The Disability Resource Center and several student clubs and councils assisted with the planning and launching of the event.

Eric Sepulveda (’19, communi-cation), whose cousin has muscular dystrophy, volunteered to help plan the 2019 event.

“I explained to [Paul] that I had a heart for that,” says Sepulveda, adding that his cousin got a chance to meet Aiello.

The student planning group was vision-driven and benefited from An’s leadership and dedication, he says.

“Paul is awesome,” Sepulveda says. “You can tell he has a huge heart. The root of it is that he sees the powerful impact that an event like this can bring to other people. He took the time out of his schedule and really felt this burden to give others a platform to speak. He wanted to make sure people on campus would be able to hear how he lives his life.”

Before graduating this summer, An passed the event to other Cal Poly Pomona students in the hope that they will continue where he left off. The recent graduate is a motivational speaker. He has a blog and plans to create a podcast.

“I want people to realize that people with disabilities, while we have a different reality, we are all kind of the same as everyone else,” An says. “We all have our struggles.”