Brayden Chapman will be a featured speaker on Sunday, June 12, as 114 Freeport High School seniors pick up their diplomas at Merrill Auditorium in Portland. The popular graduate, with a 3.4 grade point average, a great sense of resiliancy – and sense of humor – succeeded in high school as a visually impaired student.

Blind at birth, and given a cornea transplant that allows him to see somewhat out of his left eye, the likeable Chapman has faced a number of challenges, including  “fitting in” both academically and socially.

“As you can imagine, it’s very difficult to go through school when you can’t even see the board,” said Chapman, who walks with a cane. “But thanks to some great teachers and some truly outstanding (educational technicians), I’ve been able to get through my classes. There is a device that attaches to the board with a certain marker, and it will transfer the words to my laptop, where I can zoom in. It’s a process, but it works.”

Corneal transplants are not without risk.

When he had the procedure 18 years ago, Chapman said, “there was a 2 percent chance of success,”  Chapman said. “It’s risky for both eyes. It could cause the other eye to reject any transplant in the future. I had another one when I was 9. The cornea’s bound to fail eventually. Eventually it will reject the eye so I will have to go in for more.”

Every three months, his parents, Jamie and Sunday Chapman, take their son from their Freeport home to eye specialists in Boston, where he sometimes gets new glasses, which have thick lenses. His cornea is scraped between transplants. Some day, the treatments could fail.

“He could be totally blind forever,” Sunday Chapman said.

His ordeal has been “scary” at times, Brayden Chapman said, but things have worked out.

“Just trying to fit in is hard, when everybody can tell that you’re different, especially when they’re kids, they don’t know how to act around you,” he said. “You always felt like an outsider. It was the worst in middle school.”

Chapman, 18, said that his high school life started getting better around his junior year in high school.

“I didn’t want people to see me as that blind kid over there. I am visually impaired, but that’s a small part of me,” he said.

Chapman said that Tracey Pandora, who works in special education at Freeport High, and Laura Vitali, an education technician, made life easier for him to be a successful student. Chapman already has taken two college courses, was in the high school’s honors program and will study creative writing in the fall at the University of Maine at Farmington.

“He’s very resilient,” Pandora said. “He’s such a smart kid. It’s really educating to the teachers and the tech he uses. She’s the one who’s really in the trenches with him.”

In the face of the challenge Chapman has faced, he maintains a great sense of humor, Pandora said.

“He’s just an incredible self-advocate,” she said. “He’s really worked so hard to educate us. He has a great personality. He’s wildly popular among his peers.”

She’ll miss him after he graduates, she said.

Chapman’s mother is a “tireless champion” for him behind the scenes, Pandora said.

Sunday Chapman praised the Regional School Unit 5 school system for its support of her son.

“He’s had services since the beginning,” she said. “We’ve been advocating for him literally since the day he was born.”

Chapman said the family’s faith has served them well. They pray all the time, she said.

“I have learned so much from Brayden,” she said. “He’s the sweetest and kindest person.”

Jamie Chapman echoed his wife’s sentiment.

“Brayden inspires me every day,” he said.

Teachers and staff at Freeport High School have been champions for Brayden Chapman, who can barely see out of one eye. Chapman and his classmates will graduate on Sunday, June 12, at Merrill Auditorium in Portland.

Brayden Chapman, who is virtually blind and uses a cane to get around, says that the “Victory Garden,” an outdoor nature spot located in the middle of Freeport High School, is a favorite place for students to relax.

A closer look

A closer look

Freeport High School graduation is scheduled for 10 a.m. on Sunday, June 12, at Merrill Auditorium in Portland. The Senior Dinner will take place on the evening of Thursday, June 9, at Bowdoin College, and awards/scholarships will be presented during the Candlelight and Scholarship Ceremony at 6 p.m. on Friday, June 10. Tickets to graduation, which are required, will be distributed to students at Friday morning’s marching practice.

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