Lessons for Life

by Leeann Morrow

     From the Editor: Last spring I received an article from a young woman finishing her junior year of high school. Leeann Morrow was adopted at the age of five. Hers is a large family, and for several years she was home-schooled. When she decided to return to public school, she faced the whole range of fears and fantasies that any other student would experience in the circumstances. But Leeann faced the additional concerns of a blind student contemplating the reactions of a school full of people with no previous experience of blindness. This is the way she tells about what happened:

     Mine is a true story of success and resilience. I have learned the actual meaning of the phrase "to whom much is given, of them much is required." Although I have only lived a small portion of my life, it seems as if I have had enough experiences to fill a lifetime. Still I have much to learn.

     Last year I decided to return to public school after five years of being home-schooled. I knew such a decision would change my life, and I had serious reservations about what the outcome would be, but I felt that I had made the best decision for myself.

     I started this school year with many paranoid thoughts. My brain was jumbled with questions: "Will I be accepted by my peers?" "What if they don't like me?" "What if everyone sees me as only that blind girl?" "What if everyone feels sorry for me?--That would be the worst of all."

     I also had fears concerning my academic abilities. I worried that I wouldn't be able to keep up in a fast-paced, public school atmosphere. But all of those fears diminished as the school year progressed.

     With the help of Amy Weist, my persevering mobility instructor, I have learned to travel independently to the important parts of the building. I have been drilled extensively, as Amy has attempted to teach me the necessary cane techniques for the survival of a blind person. At first I was quite resistant to the idea of using a white cane. I did not believe it was necessary. I have now discovered the near-fatal error of my thinking.

     One particular school day has been permanently burned into my memory of painful learning experiences. (I have quite a collection.) I was chatting with a friend as we made our way down the hall to public speaking class. As usual I was nonchalantly sliding my cane back and forth across the floor in front of me; one second I heard a strange noise emanating from the vicinity of my friend's throat; the next second my head was spinning. I had just slammed full-force into a metal post whose job it was to stabilize a set of double doors. If I had been only a few inches to the left or the right or if I had been using my cane with attention, I would have grazed the post and continued on my merry way through an open door. Instead, the gift of humility in the form of a bruise on the bridge of my nose was bestowed on me. Now I fully realize the necessity of taking advantage of a simple little contraption called a cane.

     Along with the physical aspects of re-entering school, I have had the pleasure of discovering its social aspects. I have not run into direct discrimination during my time thus far at Presque Isle High School. I assumed that I would have to deal with quite a bit of reticence from my peers and the school faculty. Fortunately I was wrong. Yes, the faculty were worried about having a blind student under their direction, but they have come to realize that a blind person can work just as hard as sighted person. I have been able to develop a good relationship with all of my teachers. I have enjoyed academic success along with good friendships. In fact, a friend of mine even forgot that I was blind for a moment. She and I were enjoying our normal repartee, when, in response to one of my comments, she automatically stuck her tongue out at me. We laughed about that for days.

     I realize how fortunate I am to be among people who have been so accepting of my blindness. I know that this is not always the case for blind people. However, it is important for all blind people to remember that it is necessary to work hard, just like every other successful person in the world. Adaptations may be needed, but not special treatment. Many of my endeavors have been unsuccessful. Life isn't always easy, but it is worth every disappointment and failure.

     Although I do not have perfect vision, I do have a great deal. My responsibility is to help others see that success is possible in every situation. I have learned to use my disability as something positive; I do not let it disable me. I try to spread a message of hope to others by taking every opportunity that comes my way to speak about my positive experiences--but speaking is not enough for me. I must also attempt to reach others through my actions because it would be meaningless for me to say that people must work hard to be successful if I chose just to sit back and swallow air.