Brandon Thomas threw his fist into the air and smiled as his name was called.
“Today is the best day of my life,” he told the crowd, who gathered at a graduation ceremony Thursday at The Governor Morehead School for the Blind. “Because at one point, I never thought it would happen.”
Thomas was 14 when a brain tumor left him blind and unable to move the left side of his body. With some help, he crossed the stage Thursday to receive his high school diploma from the school, which serves visually impaired students in kindergarten through 12th grade.
The Governor Morehead School is celebrating its 170th year.
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Thomas, 22, said it takes his brain a little longer than normal to process information. Public school was a challenge for him.
“It was like trying to fit a star peg into a square hole,” he said.
When some people told him to give up pursuing a standard education curriculum, he said he “refused to accept those terms.” He enrolled at The Governor Morehead School in 2010.
Resources at the school helped him excel, Thomas said. A computer program reads aloud to students as they type, allowing them to use computers. Sensors on campus announce which building students are approaching.
The school’s staff members help students gain some independence and expose them to new activities, said Jerry Jailall, an education consultant at the school.
Two-thirds of the students live on campus, and they go home on weekends to visit family. During the week, students visit museums and go to movies, participate in band and chorus and travel with sports teams.
“In a regular school system, they don’t have these kinds of resources,” Jailall said.
Schandayee’ Holly, who also graduated Thursday, came to the school in 2014. She has been blind only for a few years.
“Being here helped me,” she said. “It’s a slower pace, and they work in a way that helps you.”
Barbria Bacon, superintendent of the N.C. Department of Public Instruction’s Education Services for the Deaf and Blind, said the graduation was “bittersweet.”
“We try very hard to form a family here, so it’s hard to see them leave the nest,” she said.
One graduate is now headed to UNC-Chapel Hill, while another is going to UNC-Wilmington. Others will enter programs that aim to help the visually impaired gain skills and independence.
“The six of us are sad to leave our friends, but we’re excited to begin our new chapters,” Thomas said. “Our teachers have worked tirelessly to get us to this point. I will always be grateful.”
Owens: 919-829-8955; @eowens12