By Arlene Edmonds
Special to The CS&T
DREXEL HILL – When Monsignor Bonner High School holds its graduation ceremony at Villanova University June 5 Matt Wallace and Matt Steven will be among the students. While both are college bound student-athletes – Wallace, a three-year swimmer for Bonner and Steven a St. Laurence CYO basketball player – both Matts are also blind.
Rather than going to a school that caters to their disability, they chose Bonner. It has proven to be a great experience.
Principal William Brannick remembers the first day that Wallace arrived at Bonner four years ago. He informed the student body that they would have a blind classmate. The novelty quickly wore off after the first day, and from then on Wallace was just another secondary school pupil, according to Brannick. So, when Steven arrived the students embraced him as well.
“I think by having an education in a mainstream school it has prepared them well for the next step, college,” Brannick said. “They were able to adapt to an environment that was not a school for people with disabilities. They have learned to adapt well and the students welcomed someone with a disability. The students really see them as just students who don’t see.”
So, this past week both Matts were back at Bonner for graduation rehearsals after completing finals last week. At a special academic and service awards assembly June 1 they were recognized with the Father William Atkinson Award. This award is named in honor of the 1963 Bonner graduate who overcame tremendous odds and physical difficulties to become an Augustinian priest. It is given to seniors who demonstrate Father Atkinson’s courage, conviction and perseverance.
On Friday morning at 10 a.m., they will march with the other graduates wearing green caps and gowns at the commencement exercises. “I think I speak for the administration, faculty and students when I say that they contributed to our school and will be sorely missed,” Brannick said.
Wallace said that graduation time for him has always been bittersweet. While he is eager to begin broadcast journalism and other communications courses at Temple University this fall, he will miss playing sports and interacting with his friends at Bonner. He recalled that when he left St. Lucy Day School, which he attended for eight years, he was also ambivalent about leaving. Yet he knows that positive growth often comes with change.
“I had developed a lot of bad habits before I came to Bonner that this school helped me break,” said Wallace, a member of St. Kevin Parish in Springfield. “When you’re in a school for disabilities they tell you to stop doing things like rocking or holding your head down when you speak. You kind of don’t really pay attention. When I came to Bonner I realized how important those things were when interacting in a sighted environment. I learned to make eye contact when I speak and so many other little things that will help me make the transition at Temple.”
At Bonner Wallace also enjoyed a course in law psychology during his last semester. In fact, the material in that class prompted him to consider psychology as a minor during his undergraduate studies, and possibly a secondary career, along with his hope of becoming a sports broadcaster. “I think I would like to work as a guidance counselor helping students (navigate) through whatever problems they have,” he said.
Steven is also looking forward to having a career in communications. He has his sights set on working behind the scenes in the radio industry. He will begin working toward his professional endeavors by taking a couple of courses at Delaware County Community College this fall. He anticipates that while pursuing his undergraduate coursework that he will miss his friends at Bonner.
“It was really an awesome experience going to Bonner,” said Steven, who previously attended the Overbrook School for the Blind. “I came for my junior and senior year. The students really welcomed me. I was even assigned to take care of the equipment at the basketball games, and soon they let me do some foul shots. That was fun. I will always remember Bonner as a great school.”
Arlene Edmonds is a freelance writer and St. Raymond of Penafort parishioner. She may be reached at ArleneEdmonds@aol.com.