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18-year-old blind student from Maine graduates college

Ryan Menter lost his vision just before his second birthday from a pediatric tumor.

MANCHESTER, N.H. — Ryan Menter, of Lebanon, lost his sight due to pediatric cancer. But a support system of accessibility at a very young age put him on a path to academic success, including a college degree at just 18 years old.

"I have worked very hard, I love learning and my SNHU experience," Menter said. 

The criminal justice major had a high GPA while carrying a full load at Southern New Hampshire University, and got to all his classes, dorm, and library independently. 

 "I formed kind of a mental map and added more buildings as I walk the campus on a daily basis," Menter explained.

Menter is completely blind, having lost his vision just before his second birthday from a pediatric brain tumor due to a condition called neurofibromatosis type 1 that crushed his optic nerve. Long bouts of chemotherapy throughout his life keep them from growing. But his family made sure he had the tools to learn.

"I started learning braille probably about two when I started going blind," Menter explained. 

Tools that allowed him to take online college classes at 15 years old, graduate early from Noble High School, and begin classes at just 17 years old. 

"When I reached campus in September of 2021, I had completed two years," Menter said. 

His journey with SNHU actually started in 2009. Menter was just five years old when he was "adopted" by the university's men's soccer team through Team IMPACT and the Friends of the Jaclyn Foundation. 

The nonprofits match children facing serious illnesses, including childhood cancer, and disabilities with college sports teams. The team rallied around Menter as he underwent chemo for his brain tumor, inspiring the team as they won a national title. 

"We traveled with the team in 2013 when they won the NCAA Division II championship in Georgia. My soccer brothers have been huge," Menter explained. 

Besides his soccer brothers, Menter inspires people around him, from students to professors. 

Lisa Speropolous, an associate professor of justice studies at SNHU, has had Menter in several of her classes. 

University accessibility officials also ensured his courses were translated into braille. The teenager also uses a device called a Braille Note Touch Plus that allows him to write and access the internet and other software applications.

"Not only is he brilliant, but he is also an incredibly hard worker, the amount of things he is able to handle at one time is just outstanding," Speropolous said. 

That hard work paid offtwo weeks ago he walked across the stage to get his bachelor's degree at just 18 years old.

Even at such a young age, Menter is starting the next chapter of his college career. He received a law school entrance exam and is planning to apply to a number of law schools. 

Menter hopes to become a civil rights lawyer, focusing on people with disabilities as well as advocating and representing abused and neglected children in the court system. 

"That drive to help others has gotten stronger, especially children," Menter explained. 

Overcoming huge challenges, Menter is on his way to becoming this generation's voice for justice and inclusivity.

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