It all begins with you. Five simple words from Jason Lopez that changed the course of his life.
No one thought he’d ever make it through college. No one but Lopez.
If you can will it, then it’s not a dream. Words of wisdom from Henry Winkler. It wasn’t said during a one-on-one conversation, but the 24-year-old felt as if The Fonz was speaking directly to him. Winkler, who struggled with dyslexia and went on to become a TV icon, was the keynote speaker at Lopez’s graduation from Lynn University last month.
Diagnosed with attention deficit disorder and auditory and visual learning disabilities in the early 1990s, Lopez graduated from Lynn with a 3.82 grade point average and a degree in business administration. He will return to the Boca Raton campus in September to pursue his master’s degree.
“The fact that nobody thought I could finish was my self motivation,” Lopez said from his Cresskill, N.J., home. “I knew I could do it.”
The way Lopez remembers it, his first-grade teacher thought he might have a learning disability because of the way he used a crayon. He found it difficult to shade inside the lines and colored with excessive force. By second grade, he was learning in the school’s resource room. In 1993, Lopez was tested at the National Center for Learning Disabilities in New York City. The tests indicated he had difficulty processing verbally-presented information. He had a better chance of understanding something if he could see the information as he was hearing it.
“The overall picture was that I’d never make it through college,” he said.
Determined to prove everyone wrong, Lopez enrolled at Landmark College in Vermont, a two-year school specializing in students with learning disabilities. Three years later, he received his associate’s degree and was referred to Lynn University for its Institute for Achievement and Learning. The facility provides students with support services, including diagnostic work, tutoring, time management training, organizational strategies and counseling, said Marsha Glines, executive director. They use a meta-cognitive approach, which teaches students everything they need to know about learning in order to be successful.
“Jason had a tremendous desire to disprove the myths about his learning,” Glines said. “There are many Jasons out there, maybe not as motivated, who have been told they won’t be a success. The fact of the matter is that he was very focused. He found a place in the university that spoke to his affinities rather than his inabilities.”
Lopez admits every day was a struggle in some form or another. Learning strategies he developed at the institute helped ease his frustrations. After each class, he and a tutor would review the notes he’d just taken. He also tape recorded each lecture. But it was fluorescent-colored highlighters that proved to be his saving grace. For example, Lopez used the color green to highlight any concept that dealt with money. He used the same method during test time. Color-coding words helped trigger his memory.
Jim Miller remembers Lopez coming to his economics and accounting classes with 50 different highlighters. It was not uncommon to find him re-writing and re-highlighting class notes. Lopez, who was allowed to take tests without time restraints, didn’t ask for special treatment, Miller said, and never made excuses for not completing his work.
“I’ve never had a more motivated student,” said Miller, a professor for more than 30 years. “He gains respect for his tenacity. He does anything he can to overcome challenges. I don’t think I could’ve done what he did.”
Lopez is spending the summer working at his father’s Manhattan-based graphic design firm. He’ll return to the family business after he’s completed his master’s degree. His advice to others with learning disabilities comes in the form of five more simple words.
“You definitely can do it,” he said.
Stephanie Slater is a staff writer for Neighborhood Post. She can be reached at 279-3468. Faxes can be sent to 265-4872, or email: [email protected]