Elizabeth Burns (’04)

University at Buffalo, The State University of...

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The life you change might be your own.

I received a nomination from Chris Arndt, JMU professor of history. Chris nominated a former student, Elizabeth Burns, who is currently a graduate student at the University of Buffalo. What makes Elizabeth so special is that she is legally blind and since 1993 has been unable to read. But that’s only the beginning of Elizabeth’s inspirational story. Widowed with three children to rear, Burns enrolled at JMU and, in the process, changed her life.

Interviewed for the history department’s newsletter after her graduation in 2004, Elizabeth said: “He (her husband) had been dead only two months when I came to JMU.  I felt shaky, wondered how I had brought myself up the stairs, wondered how I would fit into this place, James Madison University.  By doing one thing each day that furthered my enrollment and learning the campus, I put the energy of my sadness into creating some kind of new life, a life that would begin with the acquisition of a college degree.”

Overcoming blindness, learning Braille, processing the grief of losing her husband while tackling the critical task of raising three sons alone, Elizabeth graduated from JMU with distinction in 2004 with a B.A. in history. Currently, she is a doctoral student in history at the University of Buffalo. Despite obstacles that to some — to most of us — would seem daunting, she stepped out and changed her life. Elizabeth Burns is an outstanding example of positive change.

Such is the spirit of JMU.  In the next few weeks, I’ll post on a staff member who holds the same philosophy — that one cannot change the world without changing oneself in the process.


About James Madison University
This blog is about the people of James Madison University — a caring, committed and engaged community spread all over the world, making lives better and brighter, healthier and safer, kinder and bolder. As Gandhi suggested, we are taking steps to BE the CHANGE we wish to see in the world. And these are our stories....

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