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Courage and determination help blind student achieve her dreams, among them, graduating from Morrisville State College

MORRISVILLE, N.Y.—May 19 will be one of the brightest days in Samantha Wackford’s life.

The 27-year-old Guyana native will cross the stage with fellow Morrisville State College classmates and receive her diploma during the college’s commencement ceremony at 1 p.m. in the recreation center. She will receive an associate degree in human services from the college’s Norwich campus.

Wackford views graduation like every other journey in her life—with bold optimism.

Despite being legally blind, courage, determination and will have colored her world and taken her great places.

In April of 2002 Wackford’s life changed forever. At age 17, just two weeks before she was set to graduate from high school in her homeland, she was the victim of an intentional attack, an “acid bath” that robbed her of her sight and left her severely scarred on her head, face, chest and other parts of her body.

Overcoming the emotional trauma, in addition to the physical and mental agony, and regaining her life has been a difficult and painful trek for “Sam,” as those close to her call her.

“When it happened, I thought my life was over,” Wackford said through a courageous smile. “It shattered my dreams, my hopes and all of the goals I had for myself.”

But what seemed like the end was just the beginning for Wackford.

With the help of the Healing for Children Foundation, a national non-profit organization that helps ailing children in poor countries find proper medical attention, she made her way to the United States.
 
“That is when I regained hope,” Wackford said in a voice that affirms her undiminished spirit.

She received treatment at the Shriner’s Burn Hospital and the Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston, undergoing dozens of reconstructive plastic surgeries that included rebuilding her nose.

Although she lost her vision, Wackford never lost her will, desire or hope. She views her life as “triumph over tragedy.” Despite all of the suffering, she’s had the ability to regain most of those dreams she thought were gone; among them, the chance to love again.

It was through an adult independent living program at the Carroll Center for the Blind in Newton, Mass., that she met Troy Wackford, a fellow student who had a degenerative eye disease. The two fell in love, got married and moved to his hometown in Oxford. They will celebrate their fifth wedding anniversary in November.

Together they have triumphed, living life to the fullest and never placing limitations on themselves.
Unwavering support has also helped the couple persevere.

“I have had so many people on my side throughout all of this,” said Wackford whose energy beams out of her small-framed body. “After this happened to me, I became driven to help people.”

And driven she is.

Never losing sight of her goal to further her education, Wackford eventually obtained her GED then set her sights on college. She has big plans with her human services degree, and a lot to offer.

“With her strong will and determination, there is no limit to what she is capable of achieving,” said Marsha Cornelius, dean of the Norwich campus.

Wackford envisions the impact she can have on others and is aiming at a career advocating and providing services for women who are victims of domestic violence. She recently completed an internship in the Crime Victim’s Program at Catholic Charities, in Norwich.

“This was a great experience that allowed me insight into the agency and the lives of people faced with domestic violence situations,” Wackford said.

Her drive and positive energy are infectious on the Norwich campus.

“Sam is so driven,” said Cornelius. “She is strong and vocal and wants to get the best experience out of her education.”

That’s evident in the classroom where she’s excelled academically, achieving Dean’s List honors and earning a spot in the Phi Theta Kappa National Honor Society.

Being blind isn’t something Wackford views as a disability. “I look at it as a redirected ability,” she said. “I am limited in getting around independently in the environment, but in other ways, I can do as much as sighted people.”

She’s proven that, adapting to college life smoothly. Wackford utilizes a note taker for lectures and adaptive computer equipment called JAWS (Job Access With Speech), which gives her computer the ability to talk. This enables her to e-mail and complete assignments like her fellow classmates.

Reflecting back on her time at Morrisville, Wackford speaks of her experiences fondly, but is ready for the next chapter in her life. Her diploma will be an eminent reminder of all she has overcome and achieved.

Friends and relatives will be there to share her joy, but her mother, and most of her immediate family in Guyana, won’t be able to make the trip.

She remains focused on the future and plans to continue her education by first obtaining a bachelor’s degree, then her master’s.

Although no one has ever been arrested for the crime against Wackford all those years ago, she feels justice is being served in a different manner.

“Everything I have and everything I've accomplished—graduating from college, sharing a wonderful life with an unbelievably loving husband, the never-ending support of family and friends, and living my dreams—this is my way of letting those that hurt me know they’ve failed miserably at attempting to destroy me; This is my justice.” she said.

For more information about the college’s commencement exercises, visit www.morrisville.edu/commencement.

Morrisville State College sets the world in motion for students. Curriculums are enriched with applied learning and pave the way for opportunity at both the Morrisville and Norwich campuses. An action-oriented, interactive learning lab, the college is a national leader in technology. Lauded for its exemplary, innovative and effective community service programs, the college was named to the 2012 President’s Higher Community Service Honor Roll. Visit www.morrisville.edu to experience, Morrisville in motion.