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Finding a Purpose: How Helping Others Return to Life Helped David Harris


David D. Harris, Sr. ’83, ’85 graduated from Grand Valley State University with a Bachelor of Science in 1983 and in 1985 with a Masters degree in physical therapy. He was in the first graduating class from the physical therapy program.

“What my education at Grand Valley has done for me is provide me with the resources to be a competent professional.”

David wanted to assist people in his community, which is why he chose to earn his master’s degree in physical therapy. “I wanted to be able to help people in my neighborhood get services, health care, and treatment that would not normally be available to them.”

David attended Grand Valley on a football scholarship. He was on the 1981 GLIAC Championship team, and initially, he was a pre-med major. Then in one of his introductory classes he learned about Grand Valley’s new physical therapy program. He immediately applied, was accepted, and never looked back.

“The PT program is near and dear to my heart. It’s been one of the top programs in the state in producing top-quality clinicians. I had great interactions with faculty who trained me in the skills I use today. To me, producing qualified and skilled graduates has been a remarkable facet of Grand Valley’s physical therapy program.”

When David thought back to his most memorable moment, he didn’t hesitate to talk about his hands-on experience in clinicals. “When I was in clinicals, I had an internship at Mary Free Bed Hospital. I got a chance to work with people who had really bad accidents, a few I still can picture today. You see this person or people who are hurting and you think – all I want to do is help. I was part of the solution to help people get back home. I cannot say enough about how that type of work in school changed me, helped me grow, and helped me become the person I am today.”

David says he learned how to push people beyond what they believed they could do, and to help be a part of their healing and rebuilding in rehabilitation.

“I would never change those moments for anything. It’s truly life-changing and eye-opening. Grand Valley students are some of the most dedicated students you can find anywhere. The burden of paying for school should not stop anyone from being able to attend college. Giving helps “pay it forward” to the people these students will impact during their careers. I am as proud of Grand Valley as any graduate anywhere from any university.”

David now works for Athletic Therapeutic Institute Physical Therapy, which has over twenty five locations nationwide. He enjoys providing a critical step in patients’ recovery and therapy journeys. “I get to help people walk again, go back to work, and return to their lives.”

David’s children followed his lead. All three of his sons chose to attend Grand Valley. The youngest is set to graduate with a degree in broadcasting. His other sons went into health sciences and education. “In the back of my mind, I always thought that maybe my kids would go to Grand Valley. It gave me great pride and joy to have my kids go to Grand Valley, graduate, and meet so many great people. It was like sending my kids away from home for the first time… but sending them right to family.”