University president makes a life of turning challenges into assets

ASU President Dr. Everette Freeman is personally providing an incoming freshman with hearing challenges a full scholarship

After being born premature at 1 pound, 11 ounces, a 5-year-old Everette Freeman was taken for tests, where he and his mother learned about a challenge Freeman would face his whole life.

"Sure enough: Freeman can't hear in his right ear and his left ear is severely impaired," says Dr. Everette Freeman.

But that didn't stop the now President of Albany State University: It motivated him. His mother also motivated Freeman to reach his full potential without the help of a hearing aid. She wanted him to overcome the challenge on his own.

"I just thank God she didn't because in 1955, can you imagine a kid walking around with a great big thing on his ear? I would have ended up as a chainsaw murderer perhaps or who knows what would have happened! But she wisely said 'I'm just not doing that,'" Freeman says. "She just looked at me and said 'Get on with it! Sit in the front of the class, and you'll be fine.'"

Given his experiences with being hearing challenged, as he calls it, Freeman wants to help empower a student who shares his experiences.

"I've got the opportunity to help a student who may be hearing challenged, come to Albany State and have a fellow who understands them, say 'Keep going; you can make this thing work,'" he says.

This fall Albany State University President Dr. Everette J. Freeman will personally award a full scholarship to an incoming freshman for the year. One requirement is that the student must be hearing impaired.

Freeman said the tough economic times students face today inspired him to find a way to help a student meet the financial challenge of attending Albany State.

"I just didn't just want to help any student; I wanted to help one who, like me, has a special challenge, but who is determined to overcome it," he said.

Born four months prematurely in Washington, D.C., in April of 1950, Everette J. Freeman wasn't supposed to make it.

"I should have been born in August but was born in April," he said. "I weighed one pound and 11 ounces. The doctors and nurses at the hospital told my parents, 'Don't bother to name him, he won't live.'"

Freeman's father, Edward, had a different view. He told Freeman's mother to name him "Everette because he is going to live."

Freeman said there is running joke on the ASU campus that Freeman can't hear.

"That is true; I can't hear," Freeman said. "But I'm always listening."

Because of his apparent limitations, Freeman became exceptional at reading lips. Even today, he has engages in the practice of lip reading. He admits that when he is alone at home he will engage in watching a movie with the sound turned down or off and read the lips of the actors.

Freeman had no idea what he had been missing until as an adult he got his first hearing aid. That was just before a hearing specialist at Indiana University told him, "You must be an incredibly bright to make it as long as you have without being able to hear any better than you do."

That specialist recommended the hearing aid that Freeman uses today.

"My mother understood that the best thing for me was to be treated normally," Freeman said. "She also understood that additional problems could have been created if he had to wear one of those huge hearing aids that people used at the time.

Freeman said he was fortunate throughout his career because he always saw his hearing impairment as an asset rather than a disability. He believes this scholarship will encourage students with hearing impairments and other special needs to become more interested in higher education.

"I'm glad I'm able to do it, able to inspire a young man, a young woman or veteran who has a hearing challenge to see this as a place that welcomes everybody, including those of us who listen more than most but may not hear everything that is said," says Freeman.

Students applying for the Everette J. Freeman Scholarship for the Hearing Impaired should:

⢠Have a documented hearing impairment
⢠Be a Georgia resident
⢠Be an incoming freshman with a minimum GPA of 3.0
⢠Submit an essay on how they have used their hearing impairment as a motivation for achievement

For more information about the scholarship, contact the Albany State University Foundation at (229) 430-4660.