Professor of English
Visual impairment : Macular degeneration
Born : April 1963
Upon the 2000 academic fall semester, a Chinese student, named Yang Jia, began to attract the attentions of Harvard University. Unlike the majority of students attending the prestigious Kennedy College, Yang was inflicted with an eye disorder known as 'macular degeneration', leaving her completely blind. Despite such obvious visual impairments, Yang was able to achieve excellent marks, distinguishing herself as the first, ever, foreign, blind student in the history of Harvard.
Nevertheless, before coming to America, Yang was already well established within the high tiers of academia in China.
After graduating from the highly-regarded Graduate University of Chinese Academy of Sciences in Beijing, Yang was promptly instated as a professor within the Foreign Language Department of the College of Humanities. At the time, Yang was the youngest and the only native Chinese professor within the foreign language department.
Her colleagues depicted her as an intelligent woman known for her bright smile and promising outlook on the future. Coincidentally, in correlation with her signature smile and positive disposition, her name 'Yang Jia' literally translates as "everything is beautiful".
Incidentally, Yang was not born blind. As aforementioned, she was diagnosed with a condition known as macular degeneration in which she began to gradually lose her sight. In 1992, her eyesight began to strain while reading a book in class. Initially, she evidently assumed that she was just in need of a new pair of glasses. Unfortunately, when she eventually lost sight of recognizing the book she was reading altogether, Yang finally began to consider the prospects being more dire than expected.
Nevertheless, despite such difficulties, Yang never directly addressed her challenges to her students or fellow faculty. With her bright smile still on her face, Yang unfailingly continued to provide lectures for her students every week. Nonetheless, students and colleagues sometimes noted the bruises on her arms and legs, as she struggled to properly mobilize herself around.
However, during a time when she needed family’s support the most, Yang’s husband filed for divorce and eventually claimed full custody for their only daughter, leaving Yang to bear her problems alone.
Yang gradually recovered from her trauma by singing English songs to her students not only as a way to cope with her own psychological misgivings but cultivate their interests in English as well. In retrospect, Yang claimed that " The happiest time is when I am in class with my students. I forget every unlucky thing."
By 1994 Yang was completely blind. Nevertheless, her writing remained on the blackboard in perfect order; only now, she practiced writing hundreds of times before classes. And with every new term, she began to ask students for self-introductions, during which she tried to remember their names with their voices. She even created a “three V” method in teaching English, which benefited her students with verbal, voice and vision.
Before her blindness, Yang had planned on writing a book. Now, even with her present state, she refused to allow her blindness to become an impediment to her long-held plans. As such, she began to learn both Chinese and English Braille, during which she woke up at four or five in the morning to study and only end sleeping after twelve every night.
After two years, Yang’s book ‘English Reading for Graduates’ was finally published and unsurprisingly received high appraisal. Her mentor, Li Pei Chun, the ‘first lady in Chinese linguistics’, even held the honor of writing the preface for Yang’s book.
In 2000, Yang took up yet another challenge, in which she applied for the highly competitive MPA (Master in Public Administration) course at Harvard. Within two years, she completed all required courses, along with three extra courses where she acquired the highest marks possible.
Her graduate paper, which essentially rewrote the college’s history, also received high praise; and as Harvard’s renowned Professor Garden wrote on the book bestowed to her, “Yang Jia, you taught us more.” In addition, then President Summers of Harvard University, even lauded Yang as being the pride of Harvard University.
Now a Literacy Committee Member of World Blind Union, Vice-President of the China Blind Association, and college professor, Yang Jia has begun a new chapter in her life. With the purpose driven life she now holds, she hopes to continue in confidence in providing more equal opportunities for those who share similar experiences in their struggles for success.