Michael Ware, who was diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome when he was 2 or 3, has lived his life surrounded by those who inspire him. Now this 2014 graduate is the one doing all the inspiring.
Michael Ware graduated from Indiana State this spring, inspired by others who helped him achieve his goal of completing a four-year college degree on time. Along the way, the Bedford native inspired many of those same people to look beyond the labels often attached to those who are “different.”
When he was between 2 and 3 years old, Ware was diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome, a mild form of autism that affects how a person behaves, interacts with others, communicates and learns. At such an early age and during the first few years of elementary school, he didn’t understand the diagnosis.
“I did think I was different, because I would always go to the special ed room and I was constantly bullied in grade school,” he said. When he was about 7 or 8, psychologist and Indiana State alumna Marsha McCarty, ’70, GR ’71, ’76, explained Asperger’s to him in a way that he could understand.
“I kind of rejected it at first because I didn’t want that label,” Ware recalled. “But as I got older … I realized it was actually a blessing for me to have because many famous artists and celebrities had it. When my mom told me that, I could handle it. I learned to deal with it.”
McCarty’s ongoing counseling proved valuable for Ware during his formative years.
“She helped me work through some of the social awkwardness. She helped me get accommodations through grade school and when she heard I decided on ISU, she was elated,” he said.
“My work with Michael was very much informed by the wonderful education I received at ISU concerning students who have special needs,” said McCarty, who earned a bachelor’s degree in special education. “That education allowed me to see Michael’s incredible strengths as well as his challenges. When he would struggle socially, especially in middle and high school, I remember telling him that he was going to love college, because in a more diverse population, he would find his niche. I was delighted when he chose ISU as his college, because I felt that as a non-traditional student, married with children, ISU’s welcoming and flexible environment gave me a chance to reach my educational goals.”
Ware, a Bedford North Lawrence High School graduate and the son of Mary Ellen Ware Voris and Ed Voris, originally planned to attend a small Catholic university, but his dad convinced him to consider Indiana State.
“Pretty much the minute my feet hit the campus, I thought, ‘This is it,’” he said. “What sealed it was when I met Debbie Huckabee and Rita Worrall (staff members in Student Academic Services) and saw how warm and caring they were.”
Worrall, director of Student Support Services, described Ware as “one of those people that when you first meet them you know that there is something special about them — their qualities, their personalities.”
Every student has special gifts, Worrall said, and Ware’s gifts include a unique sense of humor.
“He shows us a view of the world that we would never think about,” she said. “He’s so intelligent that he teaches us a lot of times. He is inquisitive and is hungry for information, learning and knowledge. He looks to us for that, and then he wants to share his knowledge.”
And share his knowledge he has done — as a tutor to other students, not only in Spanish (his bachelor’s degree is language studies) — but in reading and writing English.
“One of the biggest challenges our students have when they come to college is reading and writing,” said Huckabee, educational support coordinator. “Michael starts from square one. He takes the bull by the horns, sits down with students and explains sentence structure, just like an English teacher would.”
Ware impressed Melanie D’Amico from the first day he was in her Spanish 301 class.
“He was very enthusiastic from the start and sat right in front,” said D’Amico, assistant professor of languages, literatures and linguistics. “He was very involved in the class, participated all the time and was never late, which is great, because it is a morning class.”
Already “leaps and bounds” ahead of many other students in the class, “Miguel,” as Ware was known in D’Amico’s classes, became even more proficient in writing, as well as speaking the language.
“For his very first essay, he wrote about a friend who inspired him to come to ISU to get a college degree, and it was absolutely the most beautiful essay I have ever read from any of my students,” D’Amico said.
He went on to serve an internship with D’Amico, working as a teaching assistant, conducting lessons and helping her review homework.
But what better way to immerse oneself in a foreign language than to go where that language is spoken?
Ware counts a study abroad experience in Costa Rica has one of his biggest experiences while at Indiana State.
“Study abroad basically helped me to see what I could do. It gave me confidence,” he said. “For somebody with Asperger’s to go to a foreign country, out of their comfort zone with no set routine, this was like the last thing you’d want to do. It not only improved my Spanish, but it also helped me grow as a person. I got to do stuff that many of my friends have never done before and see things they haven’t seen. It was so awesome to be part of the Latin-American culture.”
Equally as significant was Ware’s involvement with campus ministries and St. Joseph’s University Parish.
“I was raised and have been Roman Catholic, but I wasn’t really cognizant of it until I was about 15, when my father got me going to the youth group at our local parish,” he said. “That just started a chain reaction, and it has brought my family closer together. My faith is crucial to my life, and it has been a lot of fun being part of the campus ministry at ISU.”
Ware has been accepted to graduate school at Indiana State and will start work this fall on a master’s degree in teaching English as a second language/language studies, giving him the opportunity to inspire still more students.
“He really adds a sense (to the program) that anybody can be highly successful in learning a second language,” D’Amico said. “Michael shows that if you put in the time and effort, you can be highly successful in foreign language learning. He also shares his enthusiasm with others in the program. He always has such a positive, enthusiastic attitude. It’s infectious, and other students pick up on that.’
Those who have worked with Michael are also quick to praise his parents.
“I really give credit to his family for allowing him to be who he is and bring gifts to all of us,” said Worrall.
McCarty said Ware’s success is not only a tribute to Indiana State but also to “his wonderful mother and step-father, and to Michael’s incredible determination to not let his challenges define him.”
What might come next after graduate school?
Ware said he would like to teach at Indiana State and possibly look into spiritual life at St. Meinrad Seminary.
Whatever the future holds, those who inspired Ware and were inspired by him at Indiana State know he will continue to have a positive impact with those he touches.
“The word for Michael is genuine,” said Worrall. “He wants to contribute to the world. This young man is going to make a contribution.”