"When I was a kid, I wish I hadn't spent so much time wishing I was the same and feeling different. Until I was about 5, I thought everyone was like me. Then people started treating me differently."
This is a huge statement made by Carlyn White that could be a lesson to others. She did not know she was different until people told her she was and treated her so.
White has an eye disorder called achromatopsia, which is non-progressive and hereditary. The disorder can be mild or severe, but for White, who was diagnosed at just two months old, has day blindness and is light sensitive and also color blind. Generally speaking, she cannot see anything when light is present unless it is right up in front of her eyes, maybe an inch away.
Her family did not realize she was colorblind at first and was uninformed about what to expect. White said she can read color names if she puts them right up to her face, and she knows what color things should be. She said she does have issues with wild colors like "sunflower mist" because she doesn't have a reference point for it.
The disorder is caused by the lack of functioning cones in the retina, according to the American Association of Pediatric Ophthalmology and Strabismus. There is currently no cure or treatment for achromatopsia.
Despite her basically being blind, White graduated with special honors from West Marion High School and now has a full tuition scholarship to Pearl River Community College to perform with Voices, a highly select group of 12 singers, and as a PRCC singer. White said she does not know if Ladonya Tyson, the choral director at PRCC, even knows of her disorder.
White attended West Marion from K-5 to seventh-grade before attending New Hope Community Christian School for four years. She returned to West Marion in the 11th grade to be able to do show choir, a choice she calls the best decision of her life so far.
White said West Marion Show Choir Director Jon Bullock always worried about her. He told her she crosses the road and doesn't even look. She told him she looks, but she just doesn't see anything. White has a great sense of humor and uses it regularly.
White accepts that she will never be able to drive. She has no lighting in her room as she finds more comfort in the dark. She was relieved that graduation was held at night because she was more comfortable and could see people right around her and make out some stuff. She has a hard time putting on makeup and may end up with blue all over her face some days, but she never lets anything get in her way.
White has a 504 ruling but not an IEP. With a 504 ruling, she can choose whether to have accommodations or not. Most of the time, she chooses not to accept accommodations. She can wear sunglasses with guards to keep the light from hurting her eyes, but she usually opts against wearing them. She won't wear them on stage even though the lights hurt her eyes. She has an accommodation to sit in the front of the class but usually sits in the back. She refused a guide dog for college but said if she really gets to struggling, she will get one. One accommodation she does take advantage of is being able to be late for class.
"The teachers in elementary school blew up everything, and I hated it. I am hardheaded. I'm different, and everybody knows it," White said. "I feel like they are telling me I have to have this or that to succeed. Not having it has worked for me so far."
Although she recognizes college is going to be a challenge and a lot different than grade school, White knows that she is more than capable to get by on her own.
"I am a little nervous about going to college," she said. "I have a number to call if I get lost, but I won't ask for help unless I am about to die. I don't want things to limit me. I have learned ways to cope with things. I use pebbles and bumps on the street to help me."
She can take photos of material and look at it on her touch screen laptop or phone and blow it up. She can also use binoculars to see the board.
White has two brothers. Easton is 14, and he also has the disorder. Her older brother, Colby, pitches in the Tampa Bay Rays organization, and she said she misses him even though he is annoying.
She said Easton does well with adapting to the disorder and can even play kickball. Colby is hardheaded, just like her.
"Colby will get hurt and lie about how serious it is," White said. "He doesn't want help or for us to worry about him."
White thanks her parents, Melissa and Eddie, for supporting her and allowing her to be as independent as possible. She said her mom drove her to her interview, but she made her mom leave so she wouldn't try to tell her what to say or what not to say.
"I scare my mom a little bit," White said, "but it would be harder for my parents for me to go away to college if I wasn't so independent."
She is also grateful to Bullock and her former voice coach, Janeice Baughman. She said Ellen Ball, a teacher at New Hope, is someone she is really close to because she encouraged her without making her use accommodations.
White will be living in a dorm at PRCC, and her roommate will be Sierra Ginn, who is already her friend and knows her well.
For the future, White plans to major in music education and teach high school in a bigger city, somewhere with more public transportation and more taxis. She said she might consider social work or therapy as a career. She is unsure where she will go to school after PRCC, but she does know a few places it will not be.
White does not want people to see her differently. She wants to be accepted for who she is and not given special treatment because she is legally blind.
"I can control the way I react and what I do. I can make the best out of it. God put me here for a reason," White said. "When I was younger, I was angry. I wasn't as accepting as I am now. I feel I had to go through this. My advice is to ask for help but don't be limited by thinking you always need help. You can do whatever you need to do no matter what."