Sam Hardesty started losing his vision in 3rd grade. It took more than a year to find out he had optic atrophy — and while there’s a wide range of how much that can affect a person’s vision, Hardesty is legally blind. That didn’t slow him down, and now Hardesty — who was a member of the marching and concert bands — is a Class of 2023 graduate of Owensboro Catholic High School.
Hardesty said his vision didn’t go away all at once, but it wasn’t long before he couldn’t read books anymore without some kind of equipment.
“It took a long time to figure out what it was. And at first, I kind of tried to hide it because I didn’t know how to tell my teachers about something like that,” he said. “But one day my teacher in 3rd grade asked me to read something on the board, and I couldn’t.”
Hardesty said he went to a doctor but “they couldn’t find what was wrong (at first) so they thought that it was psychological.”
Sam’s dad Tony added, “When he would do the test, he would get like 20 over 200 — just really way off numbers. They couldn’t find a physical manifestation of this disease yet, so at first they thought it was his effort or something like that. It took us a good year and a half to be able to tell what the actual physical diagnosis was. Eventually, we took Sam to a neuro ophthalmologist in Louisville who was able to determine what was going on.”
Sam said after they finally got the correct diagnosis, the school was able to get him equipment that could enlarge text — similar to a magnifying glass — to allow him to write and read.
“Owensboro Catholic has worked really well with us throughout this,” Tony said. “Once we knew what the problem was, they’ve been really good about finding resources for Sam, and Sam had a low-vision specialist from then on throughout his schooling. That’s been really helpful as well.”
Same said because he lost his vision at such a young age, it didn’t have too large of an impact on his learning journey.
“I don’t (really think about having to use the equipment) because it feels normal to me, but I’ve been lucky that I was able to adapt to it. I was never held back or anything,” he said.
Hardesty was also an active member of the marching and concert bands, playing in the percussion section.
“That is often challenging, but it’s obviously really rewarding to be able to work around my vision and still be able to play in the band,” he said. “It has been awesome. I love my friends that are in band with me.”
Hardesty will continue his education at Kentucky Wesleyan College, where he plans to pursue an English major with a focus on linguistics.
Hardesty is one of 105 students in the OCHS Class of 2023, which graduated Sunday at the Owensboro Sportscenter. Principal Gates Settle said that like many classes all over the country, they had to overcome and persevere through the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Even though we were the only high school in Owensboro to stay in-person during their 4 years, our seniors missed out on so many things the last 3 years,” he said. “However, with things back to normal, there seemed to be even more of an appreciation and thankfulness for their senior year.”
Gates said that in exit interviews with seniors, one question he asks is if they are ready to graduate.
“So many of them say, ‘I am ready to graduate, but I don’t want to leave.’ I think that speaks volumes about their experience at OCHS and how one gets so connected here,” he said.
Hardesty echoed that feeling, saying: “It’s a small school student population, so I’ve gotten close with most of my class, which has been nice. We all kind of interact with each other. That’s probably the best part about it.”