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FHSU grad finds a path of success

5/18/2014

By ELIZABETH GOLDEN

By ELIZABETH GOLDEN

egolden@dailynews.net

Fort Hays State University had its 111th annual commencement this weekend, where approximately 4,000 students received their degrees. This year also marked President Edward Hammond's final commencement ceremony, and the graduation of Jason Hughes.

As a child, Hughes saw a very different path to his future.

Hughes, a geoscience major, worked in fossil preparation while attending class full-time. Following graduation, he is moving to Lawrence, hoping to volunteer in a fossil museum, and he would love to find a position permanently in fossil preparation.

Despite some challenges, Hughes will begin the next chapter of life with Indy, his seeing eye dog.

A cancerous tumor robbed him of his sight when he was 4 years old. He first was diagnosed after hitting his eye on a weight bar when he was 1. It ruptured the tumors in his right eye. After undergoing chemotherapy, he lost his left eye a few years later.

"I remember seeing pretty well," Hughes said. "All the memories are still there. My parents made a very large effort to make sure I could see as much of the world as I could before I went blind."

The family lived in Wyoming, close to the Dinosaur National Monument, which developed his love for fossils.

"I never really thought of being anything else," Hughes said, as he is the first blind student from FHSU to receive a science degree. "The paleontology (professors) were all really willing to work with me."

Hughes succeeds in his coursework through a mixture of audio files, PDF versions of books and braille books for certain subjects.

"Other people don't really understand what blind really is," he said. "It's not horribly debilitating. The biggest challenge is learning your own boundaries and not accepting boundaries others put upon you."

Since paleontology is primarily a sight-focused field, he learned through developing a different "depth of vision."

Ian Trevethan, a graduate geoscience student, has been working with Hughes for the past year.

"He has a depth of vision a lot of us don't have," Trevethan said. "It's a misunderstanding that somehow because he doesn't see with his eyes, he doesn't see. He does see. What the rest of the world considers a disability, he is able to spin that off into a spider sense. His biggest challenge is going to be getting people to realize he has a lot more going on than they do."

Trevethan said Hughes is able to notice minute details that easily are missed in fossils.

"I don't know what I'm going to do without him," Trevethan said. "I've learned so much from working with him and learning about the abilities he possesses."

Hughes uses his other senses, particularly sound and touch, to "see."

"You see more in texture than you do in color or contrast," Hughes said. "The world is defined by texture, sound and spacial concepts. I go by what I can hear around me and what I can feel."

Through touching an object, particularly in fossil preparation, he is able to recreate the object in his mind through texture and shape.

"When you see something without being able to see, you put it together in your mind," he said, "from what's under your hands, or in my case, something I've seen before. My concept of things are all creations of feeling it and putting it together in my mind. Piece by piece, I put it together."

Although Hughes admits to wishing he could see, if possible, he is happy.

"There's no point in mourning after something you can't change," he said. "I'm happy with who I am and what I am."