Updated: August, 18, 2017
As my grandchildren head off to college, high school and middle school, I am reminded of “Duke” Germano and the remarkable article that begins below. It is an incredible story. I hope my grandkids read it and I hope you do too.
Manuel Daniel Germano did not go to school until he was seven, when he was “sent away” to Perkins School of the Blind, originally named the Asylum for the Blind. He wrote this article to describe the wholesale change that he “underwent leaving his warm, demonstrative Latin family of working class status and culture, to a middle class status in an institutional setting.” In the article, he “carefully describes the process that a blind person takes in familiarizing himself with his physical environment.” His ability to remember the details of that day is striking. It’s also striking that he remained at Perkins for 14 years until his “graduation.”
Today, when possible, kids with handicaps are integrated into normal school classes and activities. Pioneers like Germano helped prove that such integration was not only possible but beneficial.
“First Day in School” was written by a college fraternity brother and friend, Manual “Sonny” Germano, the first legally blind person to graduate from the University of Rhode Island (URI). I met him when we were both freshmen living in the dorms and later we became fraternity “brothers.” Throughout our four years at college, I was one of his “readers,” reading and reviewing course material with him. In retrospect, it was one of the best jobs I ever had. Paid by the hour by the state, I was his reader for courses that we were both taking and he was an excellent student and fun to be with.
Germano’s experience reminds me of the practice that was common in the late 19th century of separating Native American children from their families and sending them to adoptive families or missionary schools far from home (even to New England) so they could learn white man’s culture. What did those children feel and how did they react? I can only hope that some of those Native American kids adjusted to their surroundings as well as the author of this article did to his.
His parents were Portuguese immigrants and Germano was born and raised in a low-income neighborhood in Bristol, Rhode Island. In 1941, when he was seven, Germano was enrolled with the help of Mrs. Olson, the “Lady from the State,” in Perkins School for the Blind (originally the Asylum for the Blind) in Watertown, Massachusetts. Perkins, whose most famous alum is Helen Keller, was a very distant 80 miles from Germano’s home.
In this article, written 65 years later, Germano remembers his first day in school as “the most traumatic day in my life and at the same time an essential turning point that led me to learn self reliance and the pleasures and rewards of enquiring mind. Hence, my first day at school was one of the most important days of my life.” Germano graduated from URI (1960) with a degree in business and a 3.5 academic average (4 point scale). He received an MS Degree in Public Administration, University of Pennsylvania, Wharton School of Government. He married and he and his late wife raised two daughters. He retired from full-time employment in 1996 after a distinguished career that included stints with the State of Rhode Island governor’s office and the City of New Bedford, Massachusetts. After retirement, he worked as a consultant. He has compiled an impressive record of community service. Germano passed away in 2016.
The Peak published Germano’s article in seven installments. between September 30, 2015 and October 14, 2015. The first installment appears below. You will find links to the other installments under “Related Articles, Website, Video” at the bottom of this page.
Les Conklin, Editor
Part One. Dreaded Day
By Manuel Daniel Germano
It was a beautiful day in early September and the sun was shining brightly, but then, Mother Nature is indifferent to man’s circumstances anyway. At this time, I don’t remember the exact date, but that is not important. I was told that everything would be all right. They told me that I was a big boy. They slipped some paper money into my hand as they kissed me and left. But I really did not care about being a big boy, and the money meant nothing to me.
I then had my favorite bedtime snack, some graham cracker sandwiches filled with marshmallow fluff and peanut butter, and a glass of nice cold milk. (While I did not realize it at the time, I would not be having such a snack for a long time.) I then received hugs and kisses from my sister and from Ma and Pa. (When I say Ma and Pa, these are derivatives of mother and father in Portuguese, or mae and pai.)
Now, let me continue with the story. So as I was saying, after kissing my parents, I asked them for their blessing. This was an old Azorean tradition, which my family maintained. I then went off to my old familiar lumpy, bumpy bed, which I loved. Before going to my bed, I gave my dog, Rex, many kisses and hugs.
Yes, the dreaded day had come. This was the day the Lady from the State said I had to go to that stupid horrible Perkins School, far away from my Ma and Pa, sister May, and all of the relatives and neighborhood friends whom I loved and wouldn’t see for a long time. I just hated, hated, hated that dumb Perkins School!
Related Articles, Website, Video
First Day in School: Part One. Dreaded Day – Published 9/30/2015
First Day in School: Part Two. Last Meal – Published 9/30/2015
First Day in School: Part Three. Longest Ride – Published 10/3/2015
First Day in School: Part Four. Everything’s Different – Published 10/3/2015
First Day in School: Part Five. Strange Bed – Published by 10/8/2015
First Day in School: Part Six. “Supper” to “Dinner” – Published 10/9/2015
First Day in School: Part Seven. Why? – Published 10/9/2015
Perkins School for the Blind Website , www.perkins.org Visit Website
Dave Powers/Perkins School for the Blind Video on YouTube Watch Video