One summer ago I spent five weeks of my summer honing my journalistic skills at Northwestern University with some of the top students and teachers in the world. While I gained an immense amount of knowledge, the most memorable part of the experience was rooming with Tommy Carroll. Set to officially become a Northwestern Wildcat in a matter of days, Tommy taught me to live life without fear. I decided to highlight the impact of my roommate in my college essay this past fall and I thought that it was about time I share this with the rest of the world.
I was set for a summer that would define me. I was excited about the opportunity to be studying at the National High School Institute of Journalism at Northwestern University. I would gain valuable skills from professional journalists and interact with some of the top students in the world. However, never would I have guessed that a boy without sight would be the one to sharpen my own vision.
Tommy Carroll would be my roommate for the next five weeks. He introduced himself by grabbing my arm, offering me a firm handshake and focusing off towards the distance. Suffering from a rare eye cancer known as bilateral retinoblastoma, Tommy had lost the ability to see at the age of two and was now legally blind.
At first I felt frightened about this unique living situation. My only experience with the blind had been with a former classmate who required constant guidance. I thought Tommy would need the same, but he certainly proved me wrong.
When I dropped my luggage off in the room, Tommy told me that he had taken the top bunk bed. Surprised, I asked my new roommate if he was sure. Without hesitation or assistance, Tommy grabbed hold of the bed and climbed up to the top bunk. At that moment I knew I was in the presence of a special individual.
During our first week together, I learned that Tommy’s disability had not kept him from doing what he loved. When I think of words to describe a blind person, the terms “immobile” and “handicap” first come to mind, however, I quickly learned that words such as skateboarder, track runner, drummer and radio show host better described Tommy. In fact, during our time at Northwestern, I accompanied him on several long runs around campus as he held my arm for support.
The terrain was just one of the many places that I helped Tommy this summer. One of the fondest memories I had with him came during the viewing of the movie The Insider starring Al Pacino. Throughout the entire three-hour movie, I gave Tommy the play-by-play of what was happening and even threw in my own impersonations of the actor playing 60 Minutes host, Mike Wallace. My roommate thoroughly enjoyed my commentary and very much appreciated my efforts.
As the weeks went on, Tommy came to realize that I did not find anything he asked of me to be an imposition. Whether it was reading him the notes from our daily lectures, waking him up when he nodded off in class, or keeping an eye on him when he challenged a student at the university to a skateboarding competition, I never grew tired of being by Tommy’s side.
While I did a great deal to help Tommy this summer, he ended up doing much more to teach me life’s most important lessons. He taught me to be appreciative of what I had and to be fearless in the face of the unknown. His persistence to overcome obstacles inspired me to have the confidence to battle the challenges in my own life.
I am so blessed to have shared a summer with Tommy Carroll. He had a profound impact on me and it is an experience that I will never forget. Weeks later I learned I had been specially selected by Northwestern to room with this unique individual and for that I am truly grateful. Though I was chosen to befriend and assist Tommy Carroll, ultimately his remarkable gift gave me a newfound insight.