I dare you to read this story and not shed a tear.
A few weeks back I wrote a post about learning resilience from being an entrepreneur. In reality, my adversity has been self-manufactured and will ultimately be somewhat self-serving. While there’s certainly something to be said for self-induced sacrifice now for a better future, it’s not the same as facing true adversity caused by elements out of your control. This is a story of overcoming true adversity.
When I was growing up there was a boy named Dave who lived a few streets away. Dave and I were never great friends, but were always friendly towards each other. We played Little League together, were in the same elementary school class, and played pickup basketball together at the local park. Towards the end of middle school/beginning of high school Dave was diagnosed with a brain tumor and slowly lost his sight. He still came by the park while we played basketball, but he just sat on the bench and listened to us play.
He didn’t finish high school and I never heard of him again. Truth is, between college and living in Connecticut for a while, he kind of just slipped my mind. I always thought of his story as a tragedy.
Then this appeared in the Albany Times Union this morning:
DJ’s soul had hip-hop
David “DJ Wits” D’Agostino known for love of music and overcoming blindness
By PAUL GRONDAHL, Staff writer
COLONIE — His crew will set up a DJ booth at the funeral home today and spin old-school hip-hop tunes for the wake of David “DJ Wits” D’Agostino.
He was a blind, white suburban kid who let none of those things define him.
“It didn’t matter that he didn’t come from the ‘hood. He had hip-hop in his soul. We called him the Ray Charles of hip-hop,” said Big Ray, a DJ at Jamz 96.3 FM, an urban music station.
Friends drew comparisons with how far the 25-year-old D’Agostino pushed the envelope for blind people and Monday’s swearing-in of David Paterson as New York’s first legally blind governor.
D’Agostino was a golfer, international solo traveler, skydiver and stock car racer (with a sighted professional giving commands).
“David was an inspiration, one of our stars,” said Christina Kendall, a vision rehabilitation therapist at the Northeastern Association of the Blind.
“I had sighted boyfriends before, but nobody showed me the world the way David did,” said his girlfriend, Rose Vincent, a University at Albany senior. They started dating about 1 years ago after she saw him DJ at a local club. She had never traveled before, but David took her to England, Ireland, California and Florida.
“He never judged people and he had a way of seeing the inside of people,” she said.
D’Agostino, a 2006 graduate of Union College, recently purchased a house in Colonie and died there alone in his sleep sometime early Friday. He had recently been suffering seizures, which may have contributed to his death. There was no sign of foul play, his father said, and an autopsy is under way.
D’Agostino began losing his sight at 15 to a tumor crushing his optic nerve. Surgery was unsuccessful. He was totally blind by 16, which pushed him into a pit of anger and depression.
“He couldn’t handle the situation, but he came to learn to live with his blindness,” said his dad, Frank D’Agostino, a retired postal carrier. David was his only child.
D’Agostino developed an extraordinary memory as he earned his GED, an associate’s degree from Schenectady County Community College and a double major in psychology and history at Union.
“He was very impressive and wrote great papers in difficult courses,” said Shelly Shinebarger, director of student support services. She and volunteers read articles and assignments for his classes into a tape recorder.
D’Agostino took a bus from Colonie and walked the last few blocks to the Union campus. He only asked for help if the sidewalks were icy or he got turned around.
He had a sense of humor about his blindness and DJ Wits stood for “walks into (expletive).”
At Union, D’Agostino completed a term abroad in York, England, where he received a prize as the outstanding study-abroad student. Some of his British friends plan to attend today’s wake and his funeral Thursday.
For more than three years, D’Agostino worked at Red Lobster restaurant on Wolf Road in Colonie. He rolled white paper napkins around a knife, fork and spoon, sealing them with a sticky band.
“He was the fastest roller I ever had,” said Crystal Franchi, a Red Lobster manager.
“He had a great personality and everyone loved him,” said Franchi, who talked with David about football and his beloved Packers. He brought in mix tapes of hip-hop and rap music for co-workers.
On his MySpace page, which had 11,298 friends listed Tuesday, dozens of condolence messages and a few rap and hip-hop performance tributes were posted.
“RIP, DJ Wits,” read one. “I miss you homie. Heaven needed a new DJ.”
Thoughts and prayers are with you my friend.