GREENFIELD — Kevin Morales has always tried to live his life by a simple motto.
It’s an often-cited quote, inspirational to be sure. But for someone like Morales, who has been blind since birth, it holds special meaning.
“It is better to light one candle than to curse the darkness.”
Morales, 20, of Greenfield, graduated last weekend at the top of his 14-person class at the Indiana School for the Blind. His GPA was 3.5. As the class valedictorian, he gave a speech that included the quote about seeking light amid the darkness.
The audience stood and applauded.
“My mom has told me, ‘You know, Kevin, I can see you have a light in you… Even when the world is frowning on you, you should be smiling and be that light for others to see.”
It’s a message he said he wanted to share with his classmates and those in attendance during graduation ceremonies at the school in Indianapolis.
The fact that Kevin, who can see only faint light and who also has a slight hearing impairment, was able to stand as the leader of his class is somewhat a miracle.
“It was very surprising to be the valedictorian considering my academic background wasn’t the greatest,” Kevin said.
His family moved from Mexico to Indiana in 2005. While he was old enough then to be in seventh grade at Maxwell Middle School, his educational level in some areas was only at the fourth-grade level.
Couple that with hearing issues and the fact he had to learn English, and Kevin had plenty to overcome.
“Considering my situation, I had to be motivated,” Kevin said.
His parents sent him to the School for the Blind in 2006, where he began to thrive.
His homeroom teacher, Judy Reynolds, said Kevin has been a diligent student ever since.
“He was always very focused on the things that he did in class, and once he mastered one thing he was on to the next,” she said.
The fact that Kevin didn’t speak English when he first arrived at the School for the Blind, but was able to learn it along with everything else, showed his tenacity, Reynolds said.
“We could tell when we tested him at the beginning that he was very smart,” she said. “He’s just a sponge and doesn’t quit until he understands things.”
Speaking through an interpreter – Kevin’s little brother, Alan Morales – their mother said Kevin has always amazed her.
“It’s a real blessing that God gave Kevin to me to take care of such a wonderful child,” Carmen Morales said.
Kevin credits his mother as the driving force in his life. He said she planted a seed of faith in his heart at an early age, and it has served him well.
“I am certain that what has happened with me is all a miracle,” Kevin said. “That’s all I can say about it.”
This past week, just like many high school graduates, Kevin made a college visit. He went to Ivy Tech Community College, where he is planning to take a full load of classes this fall.
He feels good about his college choice.
“You have to look at what you can work with and what is affordable at the moment,” Kevin said. “You also have to look at the accessibility services.”
Still, he was able to sense he’s picked a good place to study information technology.
“It was very quiet, and I really like quiet places,” he said. “But I wasn’t really thinking of the environment so much as I was that my journey starts here. I was thinking, ‘Oh, my goodness, for the very first time, I’m stepping my foot into the place that will give me more skills.’”
His long-term goal is to end up at Purdue University and then land a job as a software engineer.
“I would like to create software tools for us who are blind,” Kevin said. “In the math field, it is a very, very hard subject for a blind person, especially if you don’t have tactile materials you can read.”
Reynolds, who said she has grown close to Kevin and his family, said she is certain her former student will be successful.
He already has created one mathematical program for the blind that impressed professionals.
“He’s got some self-confidence and is a self-motivated student who is not afraid to try things,” Reynolds said. “I have no doubt he will do well.”
His brother, Alan, 12, is headed to Greenfield Central Junior High this fall and calls Kevin the most determined person he knows. His big brother is a huge inspiration in his life.
“He works really hard,” Alan said. “He’s made so many great accomplishments over the years.”
That includes learning about computer coding and music.
“He can play keyboards, guitar, pretty much anything,” Alan said. “You name it, and he can get it down, but what I’m really proud of is that he has gone through the trouble to learn two languages.”
Referring to her family as a team, Kevin’s mother said they have all shared her oldest son’s struggles and success. It’s that family support, Kevin said, that keeps him going.
“That’s how families should be,” he said. “If one falls, everyone falls, and when one rises to the top, everyone rises to the top with that person.”