Blind student’s triumph shared
City woman joins 53 others in earning GED
SCHENECTADY When Leah Johnson walked proudly across the stage three years ago to get a high school diploma, she had high hopes for her future.
But the blind Schenectady graduate found that her IEP diploma — a special education diploma given to her because she couldn’t get through high school math — didn’t impress employers.
They told her that without a “real” diploma, they wouldn’t hire her.
So she gathered up the team that had helped her through school and told them she wasn’t done yet. She wanted to get her GED.
The special education department threw itself into the task.
“We don’t say no easily,” Director of Special Education Kathy Lupi said.
Special education teacher Sikha Datta added, “All we knew was, she was fulfilling her dream for a high school diploma.”
They found Braille study guides and math teachers. She hit the books hard.
“I wanted to be able to have a job,” Johnson said.
She was worried that Washington Irving wouldn’t be able to provide Braille translations. She was the only blind student at the school and the second blind student to ever attend here.
“I’m used to it,” she said. “Mostly through elementary and middle school I was the only blind person there.”
She failed the math test the first time. It took nearly a year to learn enough to pass it. Finally, at age 21, she received her GED diploma Wednesday along with 53 others at Washington Irving’s second-ever graduation ceremony.
Now she wants to get a job in daycare — a job she’s done before, despite her handicap.
“I come from a large family,” she explained, and learned young how to keep track of children without sight.
Her mother said that dream is what pushed Johnson back to the math books.
“She really wants to teach. She’s very good. She’s very hands-on,” Kimberly Johnson said.
Stick with it
While Johnson’s studies took a year, other graduates spent nearly a decade working on their diploma.
Oraschorn Meyer, 40, signed up for school two days after arriving in Schenectady. The Thailand native had only gotten through sixth grade in her home country.
“I cannot go to school before. My family do not have the money to pay for me to go to school,” she said.
After sixth grade, she had to drop out and get a job. “I have to help my family,” she said.
In 2005 she got married. Her husband, who works at Union College, brought her here.
“I come here for two days and then I came to school,” she said.
It wasn’t easy. She didn’t know a word of English.
She remembers getting hurt and not having the words to explain what was wrong. It was terrifying, she said. “It’s so difficult at first.”
But now she’s fluent in English. And with a brand new diploma, she’s heading to Schenectady County Community College to study accounting.
She still can’t quite believe it. Her education was completely free — as it is for all adults who do not have a high school diploma.
“It’s easy to go. Most people don’t have to pay to go to school,” she said.
Then she shook her head in disbelief.
“But some people don’t want to go?”