Brooke Mackenzie Ellison (October 20, 1978 – February 4, 2024) was an American academic, disability advocate, and the first quadriplegic to graduate from Harvard University.
Brooke Mackenzie Ellison
October 20, 1978
Long Island, New York, U.S.
|February 4, 2024 (aged 45)
Stony Brook, New York, U.S.
|Harvard University (BS, MPP)
Stony Brook University (PhD)
Life and career
Ellison was born in Rockville Centre, New York, on October 20, 1978, to Edward and Jean (née Derenze) Ellison. On September 4, 1990, at age 11, she was hit by a car while walking home from school, resulting in paralysis from the neck down. Although her injuries left her completely dependent on other people, she graduated from Ward Melville High School in 1996 with high honors, and was accepted to Harvard. She graduated magna cum laude from Harvard with a bachelor of science in cognitive neuroscience in 2000 and a master's degree in public policy from Harvard's Kennedy School of Government, making her the first quadriplegic to graduate from Harvard. In 2014, Rutgers University awarded Ellison an honorary doctorate in humane letters. She completed her Ph.D. in 2012 from Stony Brook University.
In 2002, Ellison's memoir Miracles Happen: One Mother, One Daughter, One Journey, which she co-wrote with her mother following her graduation from Harvard, was published.
The Brooke Ellison Story
The Brooke Ellison Story premiered in 2004, based on Ellison's 2002 memoir Miracles Happen: One Mother, One Daughter, One Journey. The television film was directed by fellow quadriplegic Christopher Reeve, the star of Superman. Ellison was portrayed by Vanessa Marano as a child and Lacey Chabert as a teenager. It is also notable for being Reeve's final directing project. The film aired on the A&E network on October 25, 2004, just a few weeks after Reeve's death.
Candidacy for State Senate
Ellison ran for New York State Senate as a Democrat in 2006 but was defeated by the Republican incumbent, John Flanagan. One of Ellison's principal issues was her support for embryonic stem cell research. She served on the advisory board of the Genetics Policy Institute.
Ellison was a professor in the School of Health Technology and Management at Stony Brook University and a motivational speaker.
Ellison was an advocate for accessible technology. She served as Vice President of Tech Access for United Spinal Association beginning in January 2023 following her 2022 appointment to their board.
Two decades following the publication of Miracles Happen, Ellison wrote and published her second book, Look Both Ways in 2021.
Ellison died at Stony Brook University Hospital on February 4, 2024, at age 45, of complications from quadriplegia.