Lisa Thompson seems always to do things with a special flair, and the way she's winding up her undergraduate college career is no exception: Just days after her graduation next month, she'll be presented an award by President Bush in Washington, D.C.
The 1986 Lawrence High School graduate recently was chosen as one of three winners of the achievement award by Recording for the Blind, a Princeton, N.J., firm. Thompson, who is legally blind, wrote an essay on how approximately 150 of the firm's textbook recordings had helped her through college.
As part of the contest for the award, Thompson also wrote a biographical essay. And if she included in that piece all the things she's accomplished to date, Ripley himself might have a hard time believing it.
Thompson is totally blind in her left eye and has only partial vision in her right eye, forcing her to spend hours and hours "listening" to books or holding books up to her eye and reading them through a magnifying glass.
NEVERTHELESS, Thompson will graduate on May 5 from Rice University in Houston. And after only four years of study, she'll have earned a triple major in German, history and political science.
But that certainly is not her only accomplishment. As Rice's mascot, Sammy the Owl, she recently demonstrated her courage, or what some might call stupidity, when she competed in a snow skiing race against other university mascots. She won, just barely beating the Louisville Cardinal.
"He really bit the dust, and his head flew across the finish line before I did," Thompson said in a recent telephone interview. "It's the funniest thing I think I've ever seen in my entire life."
However, Sammy the Owl wasn't laughing much at another incident this school year.
Texas A&M was the visiting football team, and Thompson thought that during halftime Sammy the Owl could frolick with the Texas A&M band as they marched about the field.
"I DIDN'T know the field is `sacred' when they are on it," Thompson explained. "I ran across the field, and they thought I was going to attack their drum majorette. So five of their yell leaders jumped off the bench, surrounded me and body slammed me.
"I thought, `This is not good.'"
Her assailants were shocked when they found out that Thompson was a girl, and they were incredulous when they were told that she was legally blind. But as active as Thompson is, even those who know her tend to overlook her visual impairment.
"Sometimes people will call me up and ask if I can give them a ride, and I tell them I can't drive," Thompson said. "They say, `We just don't remember you're blind.'"
Thompson's teachers also will forget about her impairment on occasion, and once she simply could not convince a teacher that it was impossible for her to do a three-dimensional drawing. But Thompson would rather that people overestimate her abilities than underestimate them.
"THAT'S A really common attitude among employers," Thompson said, adding that she no longer mentions her impairment on job applications.
"Since I haven't been, I've been getting a lot more interviews," Thompson said. "If they call me in and talk about hiring me, I say, `By the way. . . .'"
That spunk is very familiar to Mary Gordon, who taught Thompson for 14 years and still teaches visually impaired students in the Lawrence school district.
Gordon recalled that Thompson participated in cross country, softball and skiing and that she remained active in such events even after breaking her nose several times.
Perhaps Gordon should have paid for Thompson's subsequent nose job. After all, she helped to bring Thompson out of her shell.
"WHEN SHE was four, she was real quiet and wouldn't come out from behind her mother's skirt," Gordon said. "She says, `You ruined me. You got me to talking,' and I say, `Yes, and I've been sorry ever since.'"
Thompson is allowed to take two guests with her to Washington, D.C. And with her father no longer living, she didn't hesitate in choosing Gordon to make the trip along with her mother, Doris Thompson.
"Rice doesn't have anybody like Mary Gordon," Thompson said.
Gordon, on the other hand, said Rice probably never before had anybody like Lisa Thompson.
And if Thompson continues to face challenges with the same attitude she does today, Gordon said, Thompson's next trip to the nation's capital might be not to receive an award from Bush, but to take up the job he currently holds.