Blind climber to graduates: Harness 'inner vision'
Posted: May 22, 2011
LEWISBURG, Pa. — At age 13, as the remnants of his sight faded, Erik Weihenmayer faced the certainty of total blindness and the fear that he would be "swept to the sidelines and forgotten." || Commencement videos, photo galleries || PCN-TV will air Weihenmayer's speech Thursday, June 23, at 6:15 p.m.
One day around that time, Weihenmayer watched a television news story about Terry Fox, a man who ran across Canada after losing a leg to cancer. And, as Weihenmayer held his right eye close to the television screen, he began to develop a theory about success.
"I realized there's something inside us that I can only describe as a light," Weihenmayer told the Bucknell University Class of 2011 and thousands of friends and family assembled Sunday morning on the Academic Quadrangle. "I was staring in Terry's face, and I thought, 'How do you turn into the storm of life and emerge ... stronger and better?'
"In my life, what's been more important than any one goal is a vision. ... How do your goals day after day align to bring you to that vision?" || See full text.
(Weihenmayer's talk is scheduled to air on C-SPAN at 4:25 p.m. and 11:25 p.m. Saturday, May 28.)
Nearly 900 graduate
Family members, friends, faculty and staff cheered on the nearly 900 undergraduate and graduate students during the three-hour ceremony. An additional 641 viewers watched a live webcast.
Of the 850 undergraduates, 700 were awarded degrees in the arts and sciences, while another 150 received degrees in engineering. The graduates represent 41 states and the District of Columbia and 10 nations.
Several professors also were honored with teaching awards. || See related story.
Bucknell President John Bravman encouraged the graduates to continually ask themselves the question: "Who are you becoming?" || See full text.
"I urge you to hold on to this credo after today and throughout your life," Bravman said. "Continue to work hard with focus and passion and intensity, to make the difference you believe - you believe - must be made. Never be fully content with who you have become, because the future depends on your will to excel, achieve and succeed."
Ken Freeman, Class of '72 and chairman of Bucknell's Board of Trustees, recalled his graduation day and told the graduating students they would draw on their Bucknell experience for years to come.
"You will stand with feet firmly planted on a solid academic foundation," he said. "You can count on a lifetime of support from Bucknellians of all ages, including your fellow alumni and dedicated professors. ... Take comfort in the fact that your activities and accomplishments at Bucknell will sustain you." || See full text.
Class of 2011 speaker Sarah Leung asked her classmates to savor their Bucknell experiences and to "live with the class motto in mind."
"Live with integrity. Empower through knowledge. Lead with courage," she said. "When you exit the Bucknell bubble, keep these words in mind and use them as an anchor for your success and achievements." || See full text.
'Square off' with adversity
Weihenmayer also urged the graduates to be innovators and problem-solvers and to push through adversity rather than avoid it, even when they feel like they are "climbing blind." Before he became a world-renowned adventurer and advocate for others facing physical challenges, Weihenmayer developed an inner vision and set goals that continue to guide him, he said.
Shortly after he became totally blind, for example, Weihenmayer received a newsletter in Braille from a group taking blind children rock climbing. He thought at first the idea was crazy, but realized he had the tools to reach his goals.
"I could do a pull up. I could scan my hand along a rock and find a crevice ... and I could feel myself moving infinitely through space," he said. "As beautiful as it was, it was scary. But we are all reaching in the darkness, hoping, praying, measuring and collecting data that leads us to believe we will reach our goal."
Weihenmayer compared those who take on adversity to achieve success as "alchemists."
"There's a correlation between adversity and success," he said. "In order to achieve greatness, we have to square off with adversity. We've got to square off with it and walk into the storm. Alchemists don't just deal with adversity. They don't just overcome it. They take the adversity that swirls around us and do something different."
When Weihenmayer sought to reach the 20,320-foot summit of Mount McKinley, the highest peak in North America, in 1995, he realized he would need both his body and his mind.
"Climbing blind is a physical feat but also a mental one," Weihenmayer said. "There is no road map for a blind climber. There was half of me knew I wasn't cut out for this life. I wasn't tough enough. I wasn't resilient enough. But (the other) half of me knew I wanted to climb forever. This was the last thing as a blind person I should have done."
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