Recalling his boyhood on a Shelby County farm, he remembers his father often saying he didn’t ever want to hear the word “can’t” because “‘can’t’ never did anything.”
So Spencer Hammond learned “to always do tasks as best I could, not quitting until it was complete and taking ownership of the outcomes.”
Now, despite “some developmental delays” from birth that affected his coordination and speech and caused him to read and write more slowly than his peers, Hammond is days away from graduating summa cum laude as an Honors Scholar with a bachelor’s degree in occupational science from Eastern Kentucky University. He was recently presented the Outstanding Senior Award from the University’s College of Health Sciences.
He credits his success to a work ethic borne in farm work “and having to work a little harder than others to get through school. Growing up on a farm taught me to think critically, realize that nothing worth having comes easy, and rewards in life don’t come without risks.”
He may be about to jump another hurdle in his education, but he’s not looking to leave the farm behind. To the contrary, Hammond, who received various forms of therapy in his own youth, hopes someday to join his twin passions with a “therapy farm,” where clients can interact with nature and receive therapeutic benefits in an agrarian setting. It was the subject of his Honors thesis.
“Farming has always been my primary passion,” said Hammond, a 2013 graduate of Martha Layne Collins High School. “Therefore, when I decided that I wanted to become an OT, I wrestled with how to combine my new interests with what I had always been passionate about. I also thought back on my childhood and what element of farm life helped me develop and work on different fine and gross motor skills.
“The therapeutic aspect came to mind when I thought about one very important element to therapy sessions – motivation. I began to think about the many possibilities to motivate through actually seeing plants grow or being given a purpose because an animal is relying on your care. There are just so many opportunities for sensory input and motivating activities to enhance fine and gross motor skills that are meaningful. I believe that a therapy farm could be effective not only because of my own experiences, but also because of evidence that has been collected from many scholarly sources.”
Hammond’s success lies as much in his grounding as his ambition.
“Fundamentally I’m the same person that I was when I began EKU,” he said. “I have always tried to stay true and honest to who I am. I still maintain the same values and beliefs, and my faith has been strengthened. My perspectives on different topics and issues have changed slightly as I have gained more experience. I have been made aware of other people who hold different values and beliefs from me. My years at EKU have also bettered me as a writer. Through the many research papers and my Honors thesis, I have developed skills to use for scholarly inquiry.”
Those writing skills will be put to use as Hammond pursues another educational goal: a master’s degree program in occupational therapy beginning this fall, and eventually a doctoral degree.
“I don’t think that I can be a successful therapist unless I continue to want to better myself,” he said. “I have also thought about someday teaching as a college professor. I’ve always said that I never want to retire, because a farmer never retires. Whether I’m working as an OT, farming, running a therapy farm, or teaching in the future, I want to be doing something to give my life purpose and meaning.”
Soon after arriving at Eastern, Hammond found a mentor and kindred spirit in his OT and Honors thesis adviser, professor Kathryn Splinter-Watkins.
“Coming from a similar farming background, I think she understood me better than most,” Hammond said. “She suggested that I do a minor in Horses, Humans and Health, which has led to many new experiences and opportunities. She truly has been someone at EKU who has encouraged, taught and guided me to make some of my thoughts and dreams into reality.”
Splinter-Watkins said she was impressed by Hammond’s “ideas on life directions, his perseverance and his positive outlook on life. His success stems from his faith, having to cope with some additional challenges, and also from the fact that he is bright, has a great sense of humor, and has a huge mission to help others.”
Hammond is the president of the Student Occupational Science Association, and has volunteered at the Central Kentucky Riding for Hope with physical and occupational therapy clients who participate in hippotherapy, the use of horse movement as therapeutic or rehabilitative treatment.
“My prediction is that he will continue to be a leader in his classes,” Splinter-Watkins said, “and in a couple of years will be a leader in the profession of occupational therapy.”
After all, who says he can’t?