UST Graduate Turns Obstacles into Opportunities
For many, a college education encompasses more than just what can be learned in the textbooks. It often leads students to embark upon a journey of self-actualization, allowing them to begin to comprehend their life’s purpose.
UST graduate Michael Butler, who will earn a degree in management information systems this May, can relate to these sentiments, as his experiences at UST, he says, have helped strengthen his understanding of God’s purpose for his life. Graduation has an especially important meaning for him, as his journey to this milestone has not been without obstacles.
In addition to facing the normal stresses of schoolwork, Michael has also had to deal with the challenges of autism, which he describes as a developmental disorder that characterizes itself across a full spectrum, from non-verbal to high functioning. “In all cases,” he says, “one distinguishing characteristic of autism is incredible difficulty with social interaction, if indeed, any social interaction is present at all.”
Butler realizes, though, that his struggles have not been without a higher purpose. As his mother, Pam, often told him growing up, “Michael, you were born this way because God thought you were special enough to teach something to the world for Him.”
Butler says faith has played an important role in helping him deal with life’s challenges. Although he has been religious since an early age, often praying to St. Jude upon the advice of his grandmother, he says that he did not fully understand God’s purpose for his life until he was older. His experiences at UST have strengthened that awareness.
“UST has provided so many great opportunities to grow spiritually through theology and philosophy courses, campus retreats and liturgy,” he said. “And I have been inspired to grow as an active citizen through the charismatic character of the students, staff, faculty and administrators. UST gave me a future. It is a gift I will never forget.”
Pam says that, unfortunately, autism is often misunderstood, even by health professionals in the field. In fact, after Butler was diagnosed at age three, doctors told Pam she may want to consider a state school or institutionalization for Michael because they anticipated severe learning delays. But this kind of thinking, she says, is inaccurate, as today the medical community acknowledges that people with autism have normal to above normal intelligence levels. Their biggest challenge is social interaction. Because Butler’s condition was so misunderstood, Pam says she spent many of her son’s school years fighting the district for his educational needs and rights.
“Being a parent of a child that has autism, you find that educators sometimes don’t want to spend the extra amount of time or money to let a child blossom,” she said. “But every time we got the school district to try something new or put Michael in regular classes, he proved himself again and again.”
Butler has proved himself yet once more, as he has flourished at UST both academically and socially. For example, in his senior capstone class, Butler’s group placed in the top 100 among universities and colleges across the United States for its simulated management of a high tech sensor manufacturing company.
As an active member of the Knights of Columbus chapter at the University, he has cultivated many friendships with fellow knights. He has also reached out to others who are in similar situations as he is, serving on the original board of directors for the UST chapter of Faith and Light, a worldwide organization whose purpose is to provide friendship, in both social and spiritual environments, for people dealing with disabilities.
“Everyone faces challenges in life, everyone faces suffering,” he said. “Our challenges and suffering cannot be compared, and time and energy are wasted in competing for who has the greatest suffering. Instead of wasting time and energy in destructive ways, we can choose to view each obstacle as an opportunity to achieve excellence. I have learned at UST that every limitation is an invitation to become smarter, kinder, better.”
Upon graduation, Butler will take with him not only the knowledge he learned through coursework and class assignments, but also a new perspective on how to handle whatever challenges may lie ahead.