F-M grad earns Lighthouse Guild Award

July 6, 2020

Posted by Eagle News Online

Sam TheoharisLike many students who are preparing for their future plans after high school Sam Theoharis spent some time during his senior year looking into scholarship opportunities.

As Theoharis was exploring his options, the Lighthouse Guild Award was an opportunity that stood out.

Recently Lighthouse Guild announced that Theoharis was one of 12 recipients of a scholarship for $8,500.

The mission of Lighthouse Guild is to assist people who are legally blind.

According to Lighthouse Guild scholarships are based on strong academic accomplishment and merit to help students with vision loss make a successful transition to college and graduate education.

“The education experience has been dramatically changed by COVID-19, and students with vision loss are particularly impacted,” Calvin W. Roberts, MD, president and CEO of Lighthouse Guild, said. “We are pleased to provide scholarships to these outstanding students who are legally blind, which they may decide to use for specialized equipment or other preparations related to distance learning. I congratulate this year’s recipients and wish them the greatest success in their future careers.”

Since its inception in 2005, Lighthouse Guild’s Scholarship Program has awarded approximately $2.5 million in scholarships to outstanding students from 39 states.

Former scholarship recipients have gone on to careers as attorneys, teachers, engineers, chemists, composers, musicians, neuroscientists, social workers, business owners, investors, epidemiologists, nurses, physician assistants, physical therapists, occupational therapists, speech therapists, journalists and computer scientists.

Theoharis said he was excited to learn he was among the recipients,

“I am really honored to receive it,” he said. “I am really honored Lighthouse Guild would select me for this scholarship award. Lighthouse Guild works to raise awareness for people with a loss of vision or who are legally blind or blind.”

Theoharis explained he was born with a condition called nystagmus.

This is a vision condition in which the eyes make repetitive, uncontrolled movements. These movements often result in reduced vision and depth perception and can affect balance and coordination. These involuntary eye movements can occur from side to side, up and down, or in a circular pattern.

Because of this, Theoharis is legally blind.

“My eye move back and forth involuntarily,” he said. “Basically for me to see what someone with normal vision could see from 200 feet away I have to be 20 feet away. I was born with this and it probably won’t change.”

Theoharis said especially when he was younger, he found other kids to be curious about his condition, but in a very supportive way.

He said particularly during elementary school, but even at time in high school, he would let other kids try on his glasses.

“Everyone was always really supportive,” Theoharis said. “They would want to try my glasses on and it was probably mostly just blurry, but they would try to sort of see the world the way I do. I always thought it was a very kind gesture.”

While he said he never consciously gave it much thought, Theoharis said on some level, this support form other students, the effort to see the world through his eyes, at least in some small way, could be seen as a metaphor for other aspects of his life and school career.

While in high school, Theoharis co-founded a school club called “It’s Common Sense”, which focuses on local social-political issues.

Theoharis said the motivation for establishing this club was to create a space where he and his peers can learn from each other what equality looks like.

Starting at the end of his sophomore year and really taking shape during his junior year before getting truncated due to schools closing during his senior year, Theoharis said the club offered a space for intellectual glasses-swapping so to speak and he hoped help students and people in the community to see the modifications needed for equity.

“We looked at a lot of world and national issues and tried to bring them down to the local level,” Theoharis said. “We tried to have a dialogue and explore topics like social justice and help people be better informed and to move the community to try to understand these issues better in our community and in our own school.”

With schools closed for the last part of his senior year, Theoharis said the club was not as active as he would have liked and he not sure if it will carry on with other students next year, but he said he hopes it will.

Next fall Theoharis will be studying at Brown University where he said he is not committed to a major just yet but he plans to pursue a path that will continue what he started with “It’s Common Sense” in high school.

“I haven’t completely decided what I am going to study yet,” he said. “But I plan to pursue something that will have to do with social justice.”