Although she is totally blind, Jamey Cook has a “secret weapon.“
Her mother first introduced her to it when she was five-years-old. In elementary school, she wielded it on the playground when other kids teased her. Today, the 22-year-old has mastered its power and uses it everyday. Her weapon? Spanish.
Jamey, a longtime member of Recording for the Blind and Dyslexic, from Knoxville, TN, recently graduated magna cum laude from Maryville College with a degree in Spanish and a minor in sociology. She says she first fell in love with the Spanish language when she was a child.
“My mom is from East Texas, and she taught me some of the words she learned in school. I was only five-years-old, but I was just fascinated,“ Jamey recalls. “Then I started listening to stories for children through audio books. I loved the language. It was just so pretty.“
She soon learned that there was power in knowing a second language. “I was in daycare a lot, and sometimes the kids would make fun. So I’d say something in Spanish to them.“ She’s quick to add, “But not cursing. It was just something I could do that they couldn’t. It was my secret weapon.“ By the time she was in high school, Cook was volunteering as a Spanish translator at Fort Sanders Regional Hospital, and she decided she would continue pursuing her studies at college. She also worked as a translator to support herself in college.
Born three months premature, Jamey weighed under three pounds at birth. She developed a condition known as “retinopathy of prematurity“ in infancy, resulting in total blindness by the time she was six months old. She says she’s used talking books most of her life, but came to rely on them heavily when she got to college.
“Digital books really level the playing field. I’m able to flip through or skim a book, exactly as a sighted person would.“
While in her junior year at Maryville, she furthered her mastery of the language after spending a semester in Venezuela. “It was the most fabulous experience I’ve ever had in my entire life. I was surrounded by Spanish,“ Jamey says. “I heard a lot of really beautiful accents.“
In the future, Jamey plans to begin graduate school, with the goal of teaching Latin American literature at the college level.
“I have a passion for great literature,“ she says. “When I took some of the Latin American literature survey courses, I became more enthralled. Spanish really is just my passion.“