By Dan Sullivan
Upon sojourning off to college, one of my first acquaintances in the dorm was a senior student named Jim. Although it cannot be said that I got to know this guy quite well, nonetheless and without him ever realizing it, Jim became an inspiration to me.
Having grown up in a small farm community, my situation stuck out like a sore thumb. In this wholesome rural setting, I got viewed as a quirky young person due to a major vision impairment. Some of the locals simply referred to me as the “kid with bad eyes”. Like me, their lifetime experiences never included any previous encounters with someone youthful and labelled as legally blind. As such, this meant no out of sight role models or mentors during my school days.
College changed all this during my introduction to Jim. Not only was Jim totally blind, yet he wore braces on both legs and severely struggled just to maneuver the dorm hallways. Being naïve, like most of us when first encountering someone like Jim, my prejudices immediately kicked in as I began wondering what kind of future lay ahead for this guy. Comparing Jim to myself, I questioned how he would survive the obvious barriers now and in the years to come. It did not take long to answer my apprehensions about Jim.
After finally settling into my dorm room and hooking up my stereo, I tuned into the campus radio station. It was early evening and the station was featuring several hours of jazz. Not being a real fan of this particular music format, I began thinking about tuning to a different station. Just as I reached for the tuning knob, the disc jockey announced the station’s call letters and introduced himself. To my amazement it was Jim. Unbelievable I thought. That blind guy I had just met this morning is the campus disc jockey. While rattling off campus announcements, profiling musicians, and tutoring the world about jazz, I was now being mentored by someone so oftentimes defined by what he cannot do. Not only was this impressive, it was downright cool. The reservations I had of Jim and those of me as well, suddenly began crumbling. Tuning into that show and listening to Jim changed many of my perspectives about limitations and boundaries from that day forward. His voice and intellect took precedence over any lack of visual acuity or mobility. Before even graduating, he had vaulted into a profession that defied disability. Jim was not merely a fellow student, yet a barrier buster and success story. As an upperclassman, Jim gave this freshman an educational kick start.
I’m not sure what became of Jim from those college days. However, I would like him to know that besides spinning discs, he served as a role model whose lessons reached far beyond any of the classrooms. And as a bonus, he even converted at least one die-hard rocker to someone with a newfound jazz appreciation. Oh the difference that one person can make.
Dan Sullivan lives in Wausau, Wisconsin.
Featured image is a photo of a woman wearing headphones, speaking into a microphone. In the background you can see the radio studio. Credit: “Radio Station WTUL Studio” by Tulane Public Relations is licensed under CC BY 2.0