Headshot of Becky Smith Galli ’80

Becky Smith Galli ’80

Becky Smith Galli ’80 didn’t have a normal college experience. If you ask her what she learned about herself at UNC, the biggest lesson wasn’t that she could face her fears or travel the world. Her greatest lesson in college was the importance of moving forward through pain.

Becky was 20, halfway through her time at Carolina, when her 17-year-old brother died in a waterskiing accident.

“What 20-year-old knows how to deal with grief?” Becky says. “My friends didn’t know how to comfort me; I didn’t even know how to experience it. They may not have known what to say, but they didn’t leave me—which is really important. They wouldn’t let me isolate, and I’ve learned that’s a real key element of moving through grief: that you should not be alone.”

Becky’s first lesson was moving forward through pain; her second was to do it with friends by her side. Today, Morehead-Cain Scholars and Alumni still motivate her to keep moving forward through life.

“Through the Program you learn about perseverance,” she says. “Being part of a community that is determined to succeed helps solidify that as part of who you are and your mode of operation.”

And Becky is someone who knows the meaning of perseverance. In just a matter of years, her son suffered and died from a degenerative disease. Her daughter was diagnosed with autism. Nine days after Becky’s divorce was finalized, she was diagnosed with transverse myelitis—a disease that paralyzed her from the waist down.

Somehow, she made it through. She finds fulfillment in her writing and her speaking events (she’s now the author of a memoir called Rethinking Possible). She finds fulfillment in cooking with her family, in taking her dog for a walk, in decorating mirrors and picture frames with pottery shards and bits of jewelry.

In 2015, Becky spoke on an Alumni Forum panel called “When You’re Going through Hell, Keep Going.” She says that experience transformed her life even further.

“That was the first time I had openly spoken about paralysis. I was scared I was going to lose it, break down and present myself as a sob story. I was very apprehensive.”

Becky says she found herself not only comforted but affirmed and inspired by her fellow Morehead-Cain panelists.

“It was one of the most special and revered experiences I’ve ever had. It was life-changing. You feel like you’re all alone, that you’ve had this ‘Plan B’ life. When we’re picked for this (scholarship), there are great expectations for what you’re going to achieve. Most of us have those expectations anyway, and then when you get this scholarship, it’s like a double layer of expectations. So much of what we wanted to achieve as scholars was simply not possible—yet all of us [on the panel] had found ways to not only survive but contribute.”

Becky says the panel shifted her thinking about adversity and pain. “Struggles can be useful,” she says. “It’s not a sob story, it’s a story of perseverance. It’s rethinking possible.”