Sullivan was on his way to the Alabama Optometry Association’s 2010 conference in Birmingham this weekend, but wanted to first make a stop at ASB to speak to students.
“We’re real excited to have him,” said Charlotte Lowry, principal of ASB.
“I think his goal is to motivate blind students to see what they can accomplish, because look at what he has accomplished.”
Sullivan is more than blind. He is an accomplished singer, actor, author, writer and producer. He is a husband and a father.
His message to students was that there is more to them than just being blind.
Accompanied by his Guide dog Edison, Sullivan took the stage and asked the students in the auditorium, “What does blind mean?” to which students responded, “You can’t see.”
Sullivan then told them, “But it doesn’t mean we can’t enjoy our other senses.”
And everyone certainly did. Students were able to hear Sullivan’s inspirational story, and navigate through the high and low points in his journey of adjusting to what he called “the seeing world.”
Sullivan was born three months premature and was given too much oxygen in an incubator that saved his life but cost him his eyesight.
In 1975, Sullivan wrote his autobiography, “If You Could See What I Hear,” which chronicled life lessons he learned, especially as a child.
It illustrated memories of him playing baseball with his neighborhood friends using “Sullivan’s Rules,” rules that his father, Porky Sullivan, created so that his son could play baseball without the benefit of seeing the ball.
“It is very difficult to be the parent of a blind child and trying to find balance between the sight world and the blind world,” Sullivan said.
He also told students that if he got lucky, he would see the change this generation will make in the world and its image of what blind is.
“Cause one person isn’t just one thing,” Sullivan said. “The you that you want to be, that’s what matters.”
He said his first time meeting Helen Keller was when he was 8 and she was 80.
Sullivan also brought up the issue of bullying, and many students resonated with his childhood experience.
After being called names and teased through the fence that his parents had around the backyard of his home, Sullivan got angry.
He told students “to be competitively angry,” meaning not to be destructive but instead see the obstacles in every day life as challenges they can and will overcome.
“Every student in this school has to be better just to be equal,” Sullivan said. “And that’s just the way it is.”
He reminded students that it’s a tough world out there and they have to be ready to take on anything to reach their full potential.
He told students they could look at their blindness in one of two ways.
“(Either) it’s the best thing that ever happened to you, or you can feel sorry for yourself,” Sullivan said.
He closed his performance with “Reach For The Light,” a song encouraging students to embrace what makes each of them unique and to face life head-on with courage and determination.
“It’s in our differences where we find something special,” Sullivan said. “Find that special thing and work to be good at that.”