Robbie’s Grandmother had a bigger than life, in your face personality; she was a fighter. Enrolling her grandson Robbie up for computer classes, she went on to tell me that Robbie would need more time than others to complete the class. The classes were self paced so it really didn’t matter but she was adamant that I make sure the instructors knew he would need more time. This whole time we chatted, Robbie sat in total silence with his hands on his lap, looking down at the table; she demanded so much of my attention that I hadn’t even looked at him. After telling me yet again that Robbie would need extra time, she reached under the table and grabbed his hand, bringing it to the surface and harshly dropping it on the table saying “SEE” and pointing to his hand.
Robbie had no hands. Not hands like you and I have. He suffers from Aperts Syndrome. Robbie had three large digits on each hand the size that are about the thickness and size of three average fingers combined. People suffering from Aperts also don’t have any joints or ability to bend like your fingers or my fingers.
People suffering from Aprets are also born with portions of their skull missing.
Upon seeing Robbie’s hands I immediately went into counselor mode, explaining our special needs department and the availability of tutors. Robbie’s grandmother wanted nothing to do with any extra help, she just wanted Robbie in the class and some extra time. I suggested that we start with a basic Windows class, to get acclimated to the computer. But Robbie wanted to take Excel, he wanted to learn Excel.
Robbie and grandmother showed up on time, grandma left telling Rob that she would be back in two hours to pick him up. Robbie had his book, covered in shrink wrap He could not remove the plastic shrink wrap from the book. I thought, “There is no way this kid is going to finish this course”.
I removed the plastic from Robbie’s book for him. Robbie then couldn’t put his book in the book stand next to the computer and asked me for help. I put his book in the bookstand and I thought, “There is no way this kid is going to finish this course.”
I pulled the instructor aside and asked her to watch Robbie, and to let me know the minute he needed help. I assumed that there was no way Robbie would be successful in the course. Three days passed and I had not heard from the instructor. So I called her and asked, “How Robbie do?”
“ He did fine”. “ He did fine”. “ He did fine”.
Robbie did more than fine, Robbie finished Excel in pace with the other students and got an A. Robbie then went on to take eight additional computer classes to earn a MS Software Certificate, straight A’s, except for Access Part 2, he got a B in that one. It took Rob two years to finish nine classes, one by one. Showing up for class like clockwork in between horrible surgeries where they were putting metal plates and screws in his head to fix bone deformities, Robbie kept plugging along
Taking a break here and there because they could not afford to pay for the class or the book; waiting while they saved up enough of their social security incomes to move forward. Mysteriously…….. …a “free” or “donated” book always seemed to be available for Robbie, they just happen to be lying about. It’s funny how things work out like that.
Robbie was a joy , who always had a hug waiting. Smart, so smart and shiny so very, very shiny, a simply beautiful person behind an unfortunate shell. Smiling through everything life dealt him and overcoming any hurtle he set his mind to. His grandmother despite her tough exterior was a sweet lady too; a heart of gold, having to be tough to get things done for the grandson she had raised since birth. She too always had a hug for me.
After completing the Software Certificate, Robbie decided to pursue a Web Page Design Certificate that required a MAC computer and required that his 76 year old grandmother drive him 2.5 hours one way, twice a week for the classes. Robbie started once again…. taking one class at a time.
The local paper was looking to the college for stories. I asked Robbie if he would like to tell his story and he did . One day the phone rang and an elderly lady told me the newspaper had given her my phone number and asked me for Robbie’s address. She went on to say that she had saved up $2000 for a new computer but after reading Robbie’s story in the paper had decided that he needed it more than she did and she wanted to send him a check. She did. Others did too.
The community rallied around Robbie . . Community is a beautiful thing.
A picture of Robbie hangs above my desk, next to pictures of my kids. He taught me to never assume that someone “can’t” and that no matter who you are if you set your mind to something you can do it.
One of the most valuable life lessons I’ve learned in my 38 years. There are no excuses to not see your goals come true, no matter what hurtles you face, be they physical, limitations thrust upon you by others or your own internal walls. The only true limitations we have are the ones we put on ourselves.
So now when a student calls and complains about trying to balance work and family and school or about some other hurtle they might be facing. I tell them about the boy with no hands who can navigate any computer you put in front of him and then I tell them to take “can’t” out of their vocabulary. The lessons learned from Robbie and his grandmother will stay with me forever and have shaped the person I’ve become; especially when it comes to dreaming big, setting goals and seizing the future.
The journey to your goal won’t be completed in a day, but step by step course by course goal by goal Looking down the road at the path you traveled once you’ve reached your goal is a priceless gift that you can only earn It isn’t handed to you, nor is the guarantee that it will be easy.
My goal is to spread Robbie’s message , “yes you can.” Hoping to empower anyone who has doubts about themselves.