Marissa Nissley, a 2020 graduate of Eastern Regional High School, has likely faced more adversity in her life than the majority of her classmates.
Born with albinism, the Berlin resident’s vision is 20/400, meaning she is considered legally blind. But that hasn’t stopped her from attaining a plethora of achievements during her high school career.
“It’s about trying to find the right way to do things differently,” Nissley said.
Due to severe visual impairment, Nissley uses several assisted technologies that enable her to complete school work and participate in various school clubs and groups.
“Once I found out what worked for me, such as an iPad and binoculars to see things from a distance, I’m able to get stuff done using those to assist me because they’re helpful,” she noted. “So the greatest challenge at first was just finding out what worked for me.”
Nissley’s impressive resume and work ethic recently earned her a scholarship from the Lighthouse Guild, a nonprofit that awards national, merit-based scholarships to those with vision loss. Nissley is one of 12 recipients this year.
While utilizing assisted technologies, Nissley served as the vice president of Eastern’s DECA (a national technical student organization) chapter for two years, qualifying for the International Career Development Conference twice and helping prepare other members for competitive events.
Perhaps most important to Nissley, she also served as the captain of Eastern’s Mock Trial team, finishing third place with her team in the state, the farthest the team has gone in the school’s history. As a student attorney, she was responsible for constructing all components for the case for her team, such as opening and closing arguments and preparing witnesses.
Gordon Rovins, director of special programs at Lighthouse Guild, said the scholarship seeks to help and reward exceptional students with vision loss across the country. While all colleges in the U.S. are required to have a Disabilities Services Offices, it is not a guarantee that such an office will be sufficient for an individual or multiple students to have their needs met.
“The quality and amount of services that that office provides to a student can really vary,” Rovins explained. “These funds can really assist students that may need to purchase additional assisted technologies for their education. But of course, they can also use it for tuition, room and board or whatever they may deem fit. It’s their call.
“But we know there are certain unmet needs that are often in place when a blind student visits college, so that was the original intent behind creating this scholarship.”
Rovins said the decision to award Nissley was unanimous among Lighthouse Guild board members from the start.
“She was selected hands down,” he added. “She’s truly an excellent student. She wrote two great essays, she had a great transcript, great SAT scores. Thinking back to our scholarship committee meeting, there wasn’t any discussion on if it was even a question that she should receive this scholarship.”
As Nissley graduates from Eastern, she is preparing to attend Georgetown University this fall to pursue a degree in economics. Her hope is to go to law school to become a corporate attorney.