Despite Being Legally Blind, Matthis has the Vision to Succeed

Despite Being Legally Blind, Matthis has the Vision to Succeed
by Rhonda Jessup, Director of Public Relations at the University of Mount Olive

CLINTON – When Morgan Matthis was in her early teens she received the devastating news that she has Stargardt disease, a form of juvenile macular degeneration.  Matthis did not take the news well.  Middle school was difficult enough without the added stress of losing her vision.  She withdrew from the things she enjoyed, she did not put much effort into her schooling, and she shied away from strangers.

“After I was first diagnosed with my disease, I just sat in the back of the classroom and didn’t do much,” she recalled. “I went home every day and cried. I thought it was so unfair.  It was really bad timing because middle school is hard for anybody. But in high school, I pretty much got over it. I learned that I was smart, and that I could do more than I thought I could.”

From that point forward, Matthis did not look at herself as someone with a disability, but rather as someone with many abilities.  The five feet five inch, strawberry blond came out of her shell.  She became a two season athlete, playing tennis and softball. Her intelligence and her bubbly personality enabled her to excel in FFA, attending regional, state and national events.  Matthis graduated from Clinton High School in 2014 with a 3.3 GPA.

At a very young age Matthis’s parents, Chris and Linda Matthis of Clinton, instilled in her the value of an education.

“My parents always pushed college, and said there was no other option. So, I grew up thinking that I was going to college.  But, when I got diagnosed, I thought, ‘college as a blind kid might not work.’  Then when I got to the University of Mount Olive, I learned that there are people that are going to help you along the way, you just have to learn how to ask.”

Matthis, a first generation college student, chose the University of Mount Olive for many of the same reasons that others do – the University is close to home, the Christian values which are prevalent throughout the campus, and the fact that the University offers individual attention and small class sizes.  However, Matthis’s choice extended beyond those basic advantages.

“I chose the University of Mount Olive because I knew if I went somewhere really big, I would be just a number and a student services disability case,” Matthis said.  “At a larger institution I would not be the student that kind of can’t see and sits in the front of all my classes like I am in Mount Olive. In my English class, there are nine people.  They don’t all know what is wrong with me, but they all know I have something. They don’t treat me different.  They treat me as an equal.  The instructors here at UMO care so much, more so than even my high school teachers. They want to make sure they are doing everything they need to do to make sure I am doing everything that I need to do. And I appreciate that, and I thank Mount Olive for that.”

Matthis is legally blind.  She doesn’t need a guide dog, but she can’t see the boards in the classrooms.  She can’t read facial expressions or see hand motions.

“The vision that I lost was my reading vision,” Matthis said.  “I can listen and understand things. But to read it and comprehend it, I can’t do that. But if I listen to the content, I can tell you almost word-for-word what is said.”

There are other challenges for Matthis as well, like the fact that she can’t drive.

“My challenge of living with my disease is that you take every day one step at a time and you don’t let anything hold you back,” Matthis shared. “God wouldn’t give you something that you couldn’t handle.”

Matthis doesn’t let her diagnosis hold her back.  At UMO she is an FFA officer and serves as an SGA representative for the club.  In her spare time, she hangs out in Raper Hall with her “Ag family.”  She is majoring in agriculture education, and hopes to one day go back to Sampson County and inspire her own students to see their potential.

“The University of Mount Olive makes me see that every day that my dreams can come,” she said.  “I am making a difference here, and UMO is showing me how to be a better person and is preparing me for a career. UMO is teaching me not only how to be an adult, but also how to be a better person.”

The University of Mount Olive is a private institution rooted in the liberal arts tradition with defining Christian values. The University, sponsored by the Convention of Original Free Will Baptists, has locations in Mount Olive, New Bern, Wilmington, Seymour Johnson Air Force Base, Research Triangle Park, Washington, Jacksonville, and in Smithfield at Johnston Community College.  For more information, visit