A lack of sight hasn’t kept Greg Rogers from doing everything he wants to do, from traversing the Baker University campus alone to becoming a classical pianist. As he prepares to graduate in December, Rogers says he regards his progress as nothing more than expected.
In many ways, it’s a typical morning for any Baker University student.
Greg Rogers has no classes on Thursdays, but he’s still out the door of his Zeta Chi fraternity house at 9:30 a.m. He’s off to a morning piano lesson, a chapel service and a lunch with friends after the service.
For Rogers, a senior who will graduate in December, it’s just another typical day.
But for an outsider, not familiar with Rogers or his routine, it’s anything but typical to watch.
He’s completely blind, and has been since birth, but that doesn’t seem to slow him down.
In fact, it’s a task keeping up with Rogers as he moves briskly north on Eighth Street toward campus, his white cane swooping back and forth in front of him.
Rogers has a complicated map of the campus and building interiors in his head. As he moves through the town and across campus, he follows the cracks in the sidewalk, “watching” for the trees he’s memorized using his hearing and cane.
When he reaches a bump in the sidewalk at an intersection, he stops and listens carefully. He can hear a car to his right and, knowing it’s hesitating to pull through the intersection with him there, he waves it on. He usually waits until he’s sure there aren’t any cars at the stop, letting them move on before he does.
“In a small town like this, generally you can just go,” he said. “There’s no one around, and you know you’ll be safe.”
If you ask, Rogers is happy to discuss his condition. He has microphthalmia, a mouthful of syllables that he’ll tell you really means that his eyes never fully developed along with the rest of him.
“I try to make light of it, honestly,” he said. “If you can make light of it, that’s always the better thing to do, like ‘Hey, you guys might know me, I’m the blind guy,’ just in a joking manner.”
Ira DeSpain, campus minister, said Rogers always seems to have a good attitude about life in general. DeSpain said that Rogers is a religious man, and never seeks to assign blame to God for his differences.
“I’m a strong believer in God, that he’ll walk with me as I go through good times and through struggles as well,” Rogers said. “I feel like I’m pretty fortunate in what I’ve been given.”
DeSpain said Rogers will often serve as a greeter for the university’s morning chapel services.
“If he hears a girl in heels, he’ll stop them and say, ‘You look nice today,’” DeSpain said. “It usually weirds them out a little.”
Music plays a large role in Rogers’ life, and he’ll graduate with a music minor to supplement his business major. One of his professors, Trilla Lyerla, is helping him play a Beethoven sonata on the piano.
Rogers learns music by ear and rote memorization, without the help of sheet music. Braille music proved to be more a hindrance than a help, Lyerla said.
“You just learn it chord by chord, note by note, measure by measure, and it eventually gets down to groups of measures,” Rogers said. “I’ve memorized pieces since the age of 5.”
Lyerla enjoys helping Rogers learn, which she usually does by demonstrating something and then helping him maneuver his fingers along the keyboard. It doesn’t hurt, she said, that Rogers has perfect pitch.
In the end, Rogers said he’s just trying to assimilate into society as best he can. Though he admits to having some limitations — including the obvious inability to drive — in many ways he is just like every other student walking around the Baldwin City campus.
Using screen-reading technology, a portable device allows him to check the latest sports scores, read his e-mails and text messages and update his Facebook status.
He chats with friends as they pass on campus, often calling them by name after recognizing their voice. He sings in chapel, and laughs along with everyone else at lunch afterward.
In high school, he wrestled and participated in track, having someone run alongside him to ensure he stayed in the lanes.
He said he has no interest in joining any disabilities clubs, and downplays the academic achievement of graduating, saying it’s something that’s been expected of him for a long time.
“I’d rather just participate in society as it is,” he said.
Lyerla, his music professor, said Rogers has become part of the Baker culture. Often, she said, he’ll use terms that make people think twice.
“We don’t think twice about it, but he’ll use that term, ‘I’ll see you tomorrow, Dr. Lyerla,’” she recalled. “And we think, ‘Oh.’ Well, he sees us in his way, I think.”