KEARNEY, Neb. -- Jacque Platt has always had high expectations.

She’s the type of person who pushes herself – and those around her – to achieve great things.

“I think of myself as a leader who brings other people up and sees the best in other people,” Platt said. “Even though I have a disability, I think I can still be that person.”

An Omaha native, Platt was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis (MS) at age 17. The potentially disabling disease causes the immune system to attack the central nervous system, disrupting communication between the brain and the rest of the body and leading to symptoms such as numbness, mood changes, memory problems, pain, fatigue, blindness and paralysis.

“MS is called the snowflake disease, because it’s different for every single person,” Platt explained. “Nobody experiences the same thing.”

There’s no cure for MS, but treatments can help manage the disease. During high school, Platt had to give herself three shots a week, a painful regimen that weakened her immune system. She could barely walk following a relapse.

Platt currently undergoes infusion therapy twice a year.

“It’s just part of my life,” she said.

Despite the obstacles, Platt excelled academically, earning a full-tuition Board of Regents Scholarship to attend the University of Nebraska at Kearney, where her older sister Halie was a senior at the time. Platt also received scholarships from the B.M. Stevenson Family Endowment and National Multiple Sclerosis Society and was accepted into the UNK Honors Program, which includes a housing waiver.

She arrived on campus in fall 2018 – a day she describes as “scary and overwhelming.”

“There were times when I was like, ‘I don’t know if I can do this,’” Platt admits.

In addition to the challenges presented by MS, Platt has generalized anxiety disorder, a condition that made the transition to college even more difficult.

Luckily, she had her older sister to lean on. Halie convinced her to join a sorority, allowing Platt to meet new people in a more comfortable setting and develop a local support system. They were both members of Alpha Xi Delta.

“I definitely would not be the same person I am today if I had not joined a sorority,” Platt said. “My confidence and leadership skills have skyrocketed.”

Platt flourished in Fraternity and Sorority Life, holding a variety of leadership positions within her chapter and serving as president of the Panhellenic Council. In April 2022, she was named UNK’s Greek Woman of the Year.

She was also part of TRIO Student Support Services, a federally funded program that assists first-generation and income-qualified students and those with documented disabilities during their pursuit of a college degree, and Collegians for Integration and Accessibility, a student organization that educates campus about disabilities. Platt helped plan the annual Disability Awareness Week events and spoke to faculty and staff about the ways they can better serve students.

“It gave me an outlet to be around people who are similar to myself,” she said of the organization. “There wasn’t a stigma. We were all there to support each other.”

A dean’s list student and honor society member who tutored fellow Lopers, Platt received another major honor when she was selected for the Mary Jane and William R. Nester Student Leadership Award. Established by former UNK Chancellor William R. Nester and his wife Mary Jane, the award recognizes outstanding seniors for their academic achievements and exemplary service, character and leadership.

Platt’s former adviser and mentor, psychology professor Krista Fritson, described her as a strong student with the complete package of motivation, effort and intellectual ability.

“Jacque was fully engaged in academics and cocurricular activities,” Fritson said. “She was a leader in Psychology Club and was also active in other UNK groups. She paved the way for other students to have opportunities at UNK and in our Kearney-area communities.”

Platt graduated magna cum laude in May with a bachelor’s degree in psychology. From January to August, she worked as a community response assistant at Buffalo County Community Partners, a nonprofit that focuses on improving health and quality of life in the Kearney area. Among her many tasks, she helped people in need of food, rent, utility and medical bill assistance, as well as mental health counseling.

“It’s definitely rewarding,” she said. “That’s what I want to do with the rest of my life is help other people and make their lives easier.”

Martha Marfileño, wellness coordinator and bilingual central navigator at Buffalo County Community Partners, called her a “huge asset” to the organization.

“I have enjoyed seeing her take on new opportunities and challenges with high energy and enthusiasm,” Marfileño said. “She is such a caring and creative young woman who positively impacts everyone who has the pleasure of working with her.”

Platt starts classes next week at the University of Nebraska Medical Center in Omaha, where she’s pursuing a master’s degree in public health administration and policy.

“Regardless of the direction she takes and the population she ultimately works with, Jacque will contribute greatly to being part of the solution, rather than the problem, in our world,” Fritson said. “I believe she will continue to be of strong character and excellent work ethic while positively reflecting on UNK in her professional roles.”