Chris Cahill plans to graduate from Keuka College in four years use and use his marketing degree to kick-start his career as a singer-songwriter.
And he doesn’t plan to let his disability get in the way.
Cahill has Tourette Syndrome, a neurological disorder characterized by repetitive involuntary movements and vocalizations. According to the National Institutes of Health, Tourette Syndrome tics can range from simple anomalies such as repeat blinking, shrugging, grimacing or throat-clearing, to more complex movements or sounds that could include parroted words, phrases or even profanities.
Despite the social trauma this disease can cause, Cahill has been no shrinking violet when it comes to discussing his Tourette Syndrome with fellow students and professors.
“I have talked to all of my professors and a good majority [of my classmates] about it,” he said.He asked Professor of Management Ann Tuttle if he could address her Introduction to Business class on the very first day of instruction. He had already done some “prep work,” said Tuttle, contacting her about his disability via e-mail before classes started.
“He was a very transparent, responsible, and forthcoming young man,” Tuttle said. “He introduced what he has and how his disease manifests itself. He explained what happens and apologized ahead of time, so that if [a tic occurred] people understood that it was not intentional, and wouldn’t think he was rude, racist or reckless. He created an awareness and understanding. He enlightened me as an educator and enlightened his classmates.”
Feeling guilty about how some of his tics might come across to Keuka’s international students, he addressed a group of students at a roundtable discussion hosted by the Office of Multicultural Affairs early in the semester.
Taking a proactive approach to his disability has “allowed me to feel less upset or guilty about some of the things that come out,” he explained. “If it does come out, people know it’s not something strange, or something I am doing for attention.”
Tuttle believes the head-on approach Cahill has taken to his disability is a strong indicator he has what it takes to become a future leader on campus.
“Part of [his tic syndrome] is exacerbated by his nervousness, and I think he’s not nervous because he feels accepted,” Tuttle said. “I think he’s delightful. He’s taught me a lot as a professor and I hope I’m teaching him a lot.”
Cahill discovered Keuka when another student, Tony Morelli ’12, conducted a Field Period in Cahill’s senior math class at Hornell High School. They connected over music and Morelli urged Cahill to apply.
“I talked to him a lot about Keuka – he told me I was gonna love it,” Cahill said, adding he now sees Morelli occasionally around campus, strumming his guitar.
According to Cahill, everything about Keuka has “topped” what he knew of the other school he applied to, especially its family atmosphere and the “bonding” he senses between students, professors and staff across various departments.
“What I like most about this school,” said Cahill, “is that there is a high amount of support and it doesn’t matter where you come from. You’re still supported.”