TOLEDO, Ohio (WNWO/WKRC) - This year's valedictorian at St. Francis de Sales High School loves computer coding, math and science. He achieved a 4.638 GPA and is headed to the University of Michigan College of Engineering to major in Computer Science.
Jalen Ballard did all of this even though he is legally blind.
"I would really credit the faculty just as much in helping me with this journey," Ballard said.
Born with Bilateral Microphthalmia, Ballard had his cataracts removed when he was three months old and has dealt with glaucoma most of his life.
Despite all of the hurdles he's faced, Ballard scored the highest entrance test score in Toledo and was accepted into St. Francis.
"I think that St. Francis helped make Jalen the best Jalen he could be, but Jalen also helped St. Francis become a better St. Francis," said Father Geoff Rose, president of St. Francis.
Before entering St. Francis, Ballard lost the minimal vision he had after a major bleed in his right eye. Now he just has light/dark vision.
Ballard found that his classmates embraced his presence.
"This is a brotherhood and just all of the little things that they've done individually, whether it's me going the wrong way or whatever else, it's very dear to me and that's a big part of it, too," he said.
As valedictorian, Ballard recorded his speech on Friday to play during graduation this weekend. He made sure to thank the faculty for learning new ways to teach.
"They embraced the unknown because they hadn't worked with a blind student before, but they took the chance and I think it worked out for both parties."
While Ballard prepares for his life after high school, St. Francis wanted to make sure he knows that the impact he had on the district was every bit as big as what it had on him.
"Students like Jalen and others, give us that daily, gentle reminder to think of others first," Rose said.