Graduate overcomes many challenges

June 13, 2013

From “Graduation at Madison College: Against All Odds” — Eric Romero, who graduated from Madison College this spring with an associate’s degree in the liberal arts transfer program, received a vision when he lost his vision in his native Carolina, Puerto Rico. Romero lost his vision back in 2004.

“I lost my sight in an accident,” Romero said as we sat in the hallway at Madison College-South. “I hit my head and didn’t go to the hospital in time. The pressure on my brain damaged my ocular nerves. When I lost my sight, I went to a place in San Juan they call CATT, a place where people who lost their sight go to finish their high school diploma and get computer training. They were talking about UW Wisconsin. By coincidence, my brother was here, so I decided to come to Madison.”

So Romero and his family moved to Madison in 2004 so that Romero could follow his dream. Romero has a kind of inner-peace about him, a peace that does not involve being sorry for himself or bitter about what life has presented him.

“When I lost my sight, I had to be aware that life goes on,” Romero said. “I had to continue. I wouldn’t be doing anything by sitting down and wasting my life. I just kept going, taking care of my family. I enjoy listening to music and do what I used to do before the accident. I keep doing everything I did before. Of course, I cannot drive and things like that. But I keep myself doing all of the things that I love to do. I play with my daughters. I do exercise. I go on walks with my wife and my daughters. I have fun.”

The first obstacle that Romero had to overcome was his lack of English proficiency. For his first three years in Madison, he attended ESL classes at Madison College.

“What really helped me is… in Puerto Rico they teach English one hour every day,” Romero said. “The reality is we don’t really get to know how important it is until you come to the United States. But that made it easier for me to learn the language. I had to put my time in for the writing part. I had to study every day and put my time in to be able to speak and understand the language. They had Screen Reader for
blind people.

“The good thing about MATC too is they have the DRS, the Disability Resource Center service. They make the books into CDs.
So for me to be able to navigate through the text and get the spelling and basically read it with my computer was great. All of my textbooks
were on CDs.”

Then in 2008, Romero began the liberal arts transfer program that would take him five years to complete. Romero is a patient man.

“You don’t get anything by being frustrated,” Romero said.

As Romero talked, it became apparent that he looked at his blindness as an obstacle, but not a barrier.

After he got to school the first day and found his classes and had the resources provided by the Disability Resource Center, his blindness was not the problem. His
biggest problem, he said, was staying focused.

“When people ask me how I can do it, I think it is just the same,” Romero said. “I think about all of those young students too. They have to work and go to classes. It’s just keeping focused and keep working for your goals. Even if you have all of your senses, if you go to school
and waste your time, you won’t go through.”

Romero is only part of the way to his dream. The next step is to be admitted to UW-Madison. Eventually, Romero would like to earn a
Master’s degree from the UW School of Social Work.

“I’m going to go into social work to be able to help people,” Romero said. “I would like to be working with people in need of help. For
example, I’m thinking about working in a correctional institution as a social worker. With my experience, I would be able to do well.

“Everything is possible. I want to teach people like me that going into a situation like this, anything is possible as long as we keep working
to reach our goals. You have to believe in yourself, that is the key. Life is only one and we should enjoy it as much as we can no matter
what. The main thing is to believe in yourself. ”

With his patience and perspective on life, it is clear that Romero won’t stop until he has fulfilled that vision he had back in San Juan. It’s only a matter of time.


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