James Kearney sat on the edge of his bed at Campbell’s Small Hall in August 2009 — his freshman year — both excited and scared about his future.
“Here I am. I’m free,” he thought, knowing that freedom for him required a lot more determination than it does for most students.
Kearney is deaf and physically disabled, born with spina bifida. He can walk short distances with the aid of a crutch, but his usual means of transportation is a run-about type of scooter that gets him to class and other activities.
His interpreter, Lynne Castles, translates his professor’s words into sign language. With her help, the junior has not only made the dean’s list twice at Campbell but has also received the John Miller Cansler Handicapped Student Scholarship award.
“My freshman year was a big challenge,” Kearney said via sign language. “I was overwhelmed. I had been sheltered from the world, but everyone here accepted me, encouraged me. I felt a lot more accepted here than at my old high school.”
A graduate of Louisburg High School, Kearney’s educational experiences had not always been so positive.
When Castles met Kearney, his mother had died and he was living with his grandparents. An eighth-grader at the time, Kearney was in special education classes and was almost unreachable. He had an interpreter, but his signing was primitive because no one signed at home, and his interpreter wasn’t as skilled.
Castles said she bribed Kearney with candy at first to apply himself. Within weeks, he showed progress, and soon he was getting into mainstream classes.
“He also had a wonderful teacher, Cathy Madden, who took a special interest in him,” said Castles. “He was mainstreamed into every class by his senior year and taking college credit courses online.”
Today, Kearney is living the life of your average college student at Campbell. He’s majoring in education and religion, has completed two mission trips and last year experienced a spring break trip with his buddies.
“Campbell rocks,” he said. “There is a lot of student support. My friends are very helpful to me, and I have a whole and complete life here.”
— Billy Liggett, Assistant Director for Publications