Monday, June 5, 2017

The blind judge

Richard Bernstein is the only blind State Supreme Court judge in the nation and the youngest member of Michigan’s highest court. He is also an internationally sought out speaker on disability rights. The judge has more invitations than time to speak about his experiences as blind attorney, judge and athlete. He’s completed 20 marathons and an Ironman Triathlon (consisting of a 112-mile bike ride, 26.2-mile marathon and a 2.4-mile swim).

Weather permitting, Bernstein laces up a good pair of walking shoes and embarks on a six-hour walk. He leaves before 6:30 a.m. and by lunch not only has he walked a ridiculous number of miles (he doesn’t keep track) but he has also returned phone calls, prepared for an upcoming speaking engagement and meticulously reviewed court documents over the phone with his law clerk…

Bernstein, who grew up and still lives in a suburb of Detroit, described school as challenging, especially law school. When he applied to college, his dream was to attend the University of Michigan. Despite his keen intellectual abilities, he didn’t meet the grade criteria.

“My high school guidance counselor told the admissions office that he would ‘stake his reputation on my application.’ Because he was willing to do that, the University of Michigan gave me a chance,” recalled Bernstein, who became a Phi Beta Kappa graduate of this prestigious university and later served as an adjunct professor in the political science department.

When it came time to apply to law school, he received a number of rejection letters because he scored poorly on the standardized law school admissions test (LSAT).

The dean of admissions at Northwestern University School of Law agreed with Bernstein’s position that the test has a visual bias and accepted him without a satisfactory LSAT score.

“I don’t consider myself very smart, but I work hard," Bernstein told the Times of Israel. There are some people I went to school with who were naturally book smart, talented, and everything came to them easily. I wasn’t like that. For me, nothing is natural, it just comes with incredible effort.”…

Bernstein described his law school experience, particularly his first year, as one of the most overwhelmingly intense struggles of his life. Every day was a tremendous challenge, he said. There were several occasions where he considered dropping out.

“What my classmates could accomplish in an hour took me five hours to complete,” recalled Bernstein. “I studied seven days a week without taking a break. It took so long and required so much effort and intensity. It’s impossible to explain just how intense it was.” But with unyielding hours of hard work and the support of classmates and professors, Bernstein overcame one of his biggest struggles, graduating from Northwestern in 1999.

Thirteen years later, the judge would experience another seemingly insurmountable hurdle. On a particularly hot August day, Bernstein was taking one of his long walks – this one through New York’s Central Park – when he was struck from behind by a speeding cyclist. The accident left him with a shattered hip and crushed pelvis. Hospitalized in New York for 10 weeks, the justice’s life took on greater challenges, including learning to walk and finding ways to adjust to chronic pain…

Although Bernstein could have felt sorry for himself, especially since he always used athletics to find his inner strength, he maintained his level of tenacity by striving to make the best out of his new situation. Despite initial feelings of sadness, once he realized that a full recovery was not possibly, he changed his way of thinking and looked for ways to best adapt.

“As you go through life it’s fine to be disappointed and frustrated but you have to make the decision at a certain point that you are going to focus on getting on with it. You’re not happy about it but you have to find purpose and reason so you dedicate yourself to doing something good. An easy life does not necessarily equal a good one. Often those who walk among us and know struggle will lead the most productive, the most inspiring and the most meaningful lives,” said the judge who completed three of his 20 marathons after the accident…

“Life is about fullness, not happiness. That’s the secret. You have to have a mission. I am going to be working 15 hours today and while it’s exhausting, we’re going to be making a difference and having a huge impact,” he said.

No comments:

Post a Comment