44-year-old blind TSU student defies the odds, graduates with economics degree

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (TSU News Service) – Julian Walker lost his vision due to a Nashville car accident in 2012. Walker had to adapt quickly to the drastic changes in his life, from learning braille and using specialized software to relearning simple tasks. Despite being completely blind, the father of four never lost sight of his goals.

On Saturday 44-year-old Julian Walker graduated from Tennessee State University with a bachelor’s degree in economics, as the only blind student in the spring 2023 graduating class. “I am proud of myself,” said the Nashville native.

Julian Walker at graduation rehearsal in Gentry Center the day before he walked the stage, receiving his degree in economics.

“This isn’t entirely about me walking across the stage. A lot of this is for my children, so they can see that you can get a degree and finish school even if you are blind. I am just trying to give them motivation for their journey through college,” he said.

Walker has three sons and a daughter ages 12-16. “This is about my family.”

Walker began his college journey at Emory University right after high school but didn’t finish. In 2019, he received his associate’s degree from Nashville State Community College. “I need to complete what I started back then,” he said, referring to receiving his bachelor’s. “I wanted to see if I could go to school as a blind person.”

Walker is one of nearly 150 disabled students who are served on campus. He noted that TSU’s office of disability services always accommodated him, no matter the class. “Anytime I needed help, the office was right on top of it,” he said. “Even if it was moving around the buildings, they made sure if I needed assistance, they would walk around with me.”

The nontraditional student also mentioned that walking across the stage served as a reminder that people with disabilities are capable of earning their degree. “That’s where the fuel comes from every day,” he said. “We need to see more disabled people who are aware of these resources at TSU. They can do it too.”

In 2012, Walker underwent seven surgeries in an attempt to save his vision. In 2021, he fell and injured himself, causing two minor strokes. After recovering, he got back on track to reach his educational milestone. Dr. Anita McGaha, Director of the Office of Disability Services (ODS), said she is proud of Walker for not giving up on himself.

McGaha said that not only does Walker represent TSU as a graduate, but he represents other students with impairments as well. “There is learner variability,” McGaha said. “Just because you learn differently doesn’t mean you cannot succeed. Students cannot allow their disabilities to dictate their success.”

The ODS provides academic accommodations for students with documented disabilities such as mood disorders, cognitive disorders, and physical impairments. Gregory Morrissette, the office’s learning disability coordinator, meet with the students and discusses how their disability impacts their academic setting. Walker said that the accommodation has made his time at TSU seamless. “The TSU experience has been great,” he said, noting how closing out this chapter with a commencement speech from TSU alumna Oprah Winfrey was remarkable.

Walker’s journey is a prime example of perseverance and determination. Now, with a college degree under his belt, Walker looks forward to utilizing his degree for his local family business, Germantown Pub, or working for a disability services office in Nashville.

For more information about TSU’s Office of Disability Services, visit www.tnstate.edu/disabilityservices/.