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Milton Academy was a big part of the plan Jake Thibeault ’22 made for his own future.

The plan: Work hard, get into Milton, play hockey at Milton, work hard at Milton, get into college, play hockey in college, and so forth. Thibeault learned about the school when his older brother attended; he saw how driven Milton students were about their passions and, he said, “I knew it was going to take a lot to get there, but I knew I wanted to be part of this community. I put my mind to it and decided that this was the journey I was going to take.”

Accustomed to achieving his goals through a combination of determination and grit, Thibeault was well on his way in September 2021, when a collision on the ice during a pre-season club tournament changed everything. He awoke in the hospital two days later, with his parents and brother Drew ’19 by his side. He had suffered a spinal cord injury that caused paralysis; a doctor told the lifelong athlete that he may never walk again. 

“I turned to him and said, ‘Doc, I am going to fight this,’” Thibeault said. “I’m going to war with it. I’m still at war with it.”

Thibeault was this year’s Talbot Speaker, sponsored by an endowed fund to raise awareness for mental health and behavioral issues. Many in the audience sported Milton t-shirts with Thibeault’s name and hockey number (14) on the back. The shirts were made for all members of the K–12 community before the 2021 Nobles Day pep rally, and are frequently spotted around campus to this day.

The Counseling Center at Milton, particularly Director of Counseling Lisa Morin, helped Thibeault tremendously as he grappled with his new reality. Speaking openly about his injury “would not have been possible” without Morin and the counseling team’s support. With their guidance, he worked to shift his perspective and adjust his goals—understanding that even the most solid plans can go off track. The new perspective meant that Thibeault could apply his trademark tenacity to new challenges and more deeply appreciate his abilities and progress. Now a sophomore at Babson College, Thibeault continues to build his strength through physical therapy in the hope that he’ll one day defeat his paralysis. 

“I was able to tell myself, ‘Jake, you’re alright,’” he said, referring to his perspective shift. “Things are going to be fine. I can still use my arms. I can still hug my mom. I can still hug my dad and my brother. Things are just different.”

“As someone who took pride in reaching goals on my own, this was the first time I couldn’t,” he continued. “I could not do what I wanted. I didn’t know how to do what I wanted, and that was shocking, and it set me back. I didn’t realize at the time that this community was forming around me, ready to fight, together.”

The audience of Upper School students and faculty listened in rapt attention as Thibeault described his journey. It was the Milton and Babson communities; friends from his hometown of Fitchburg, Massachusetts; the hockey world—including members of the Boston Bruins—and others he met during recovery that kept him feeling positive and moving forward. He spoke about the importance of checking in during stressful and difficult moments, and said he’s tried to be the person any of his friends can count on in their own bad times. 

Immediately after the accident, Thibeault told his advisor—former Goodwin House head and math teacher Patrick Owens, who traveled from his new post at Westminster School to attend Thibeault’s talk—that in spite of his injury and time off campus, he planned to graduate on time. He told Todd Bland, Milton’s then-head of school, that he would walk at Graduation. “No quit” became his motto. When he was released from Boston’s Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital, he came home to Goodwin and went to work at his new goals. Owens, Bland, and the broader Milton community sprung into action to make sure he had what he needed to succeed.

Jake Thibeault ’22 shakes hands with then-head of school Todd Bland at Graduation.

Nine months and one week after his injury, and to thunderous applause, Thibeault was the 14th member of the Class of 2022 to cross the stage—on his feet, aided by a walker—and receive a Milton diploma.

At Babson, as he did at Milton, Thibeault has found brotherhood in his friends and is a valued member of the men’s hockey program—several of his Babson teammates came to Milton for the talk. When plans go off track, or goals are unreachable, he told the audience, a change in mindset can help people see the opportunities in challenges.

“This injury has taught me more in two and a half years than I learned in the previous 18,” he said. “To me, there is no such thing as a bad day. I’m human, I have bad moments. There are days when I have a ton more bad moments than good. But I have that perspective. I live with two of my best friends. I get to experience a normal college atmosphere and on top of that, I get to fight this battle every single day. Those are good moments. Perspective is everything.”

About the Samuel S. Talbot II ’65 Memorial Fund
The Samuel S. Talbot II ’65 Memorial Fund was established in 1993 by the classmates, family, and friends of Sam Talbot ’65 to enhance Milton’s efforts in teaching members of the community about affective behavioral issues.

The Talbot Fund will enable Milton to enhance its efforts in teaching members of the community about affective behavioral issues. These topics could include, but would not be limited to, special needs counseling for students, sensitivity training in health and interpersonal issues, or faculty training in the needs of adolescents.