When darkness bears light

If the ATAR of 92 Alexandra Douros achieved doesn't impress you, this will. Though born blind and paralysed from the waist down, she has never attended a private or special school

Alexandra Douros is made of the fabric heroes are made of. The excellent score of 92 she achieved in this year’s VCE exams goes only partway towards indicating her impressive willpower, inspiring nature and strong mind. The qualities of her spirit outstrip the limitations of her body.

Alexandra was a very prem baby. She was born at 26-and-a-half weeks, weighing 980 grams, blind and with ‘bubbles’ on the left side of her semi-developed brain. Her parents were told that Alexandra would live the life of a hemiplegic and intellectually-impaired person.

As if this news were not bad enough, a year later Alexandra was diagnosed with cerebral palsy. And this is the end of the bad news, because since then Alexandra has managed, through her sheer determination and strength of will, to create only good news.

Alexandra never attended a special school – she graduated from Koonung Secondary College this year. Her first years in school life were marked by “very supportive, very patient people” who “were very determined to make my life good”, she says.

She admits to some “tiny issues” that she faced on the social side of schooling years, but with a surprising maturity adds, “but who doesn’t face that”.

The first image born in my mind when I learned Alexandra wants to study law was that of a young lawyer who walks into the courtroom with her wheelchair and her specially-designed Braille language laptop, ready to do battle for her client.

Her sense of self and unpretentious nature comes to the fore when she talks about her thought process in deciding to study law.

“Originally I didn’t want to study law. We have so many lawyers in the family and I didn’t want to be one more. I am not into uniformity, I want to break the rules, I am someone different so this idea of becoming a lawyer was not sitting well with me.”

Legal studies came into her school curriculum in Year 12 as she didn’t see any other subject attracting her interest. The marks she was getting were in the high 90s, but Alexandra still was not impressed with the prospect of studying law.

“One night I called a blind friend of mine who used to teach me music and then he became a lawyer himself. I said ‘I’ve been getting really high results in legal studies, I do not want to be a lawyer but something tells me I should be’ and he said ‘yes, you should be’ and when he said that it just felt right.”

Her achievements in other areas of public life are undoubtedly a testament to the fact that Alexandra is fit to be a lawyer, and a good one.

In 2014, the courageous Alexandra volunteered to be part of SPEVI (South Pacific Educators of Vision Impairment) 2015 conference and submitted a paper on Surviving Secondary School as a Blind Student.

Her insightful, honest and bold account of the issue resulted in her being invited to deliver the paper herself to the conference’s audience.

In 2012 Alexandra, representing Guide Dogs Australia, sat next to the then governor of Victoria, the Honourable Alex Chenrov, presenting to him the organisation, its role and the challenges it faces.

Alexandra’s mind beams a light that cannot be shadowed by the conventional darkness of her physical impairment, and this light is enriched by her general stance on life and, as she asserts, her love of music, which she owes to her mum Jenny

“I’ve always loved music, I think. I remember just lying on the couch listening to Haris Alexiou, sitting on the floor listening to classical, playing on the floor and crying while listening to some of my mum’s opera records. I felt it really strongly. I grew into pop throughout my teens – I took pop singing lessons – something which I really regret. But I had to be like everyone else,” she says, adding that at the age of 15 she saw the light.

“I could not listen to it anymore because there was such a lack of proper musicality in it.”

These days Alexandra, who due to her cerebral palsy does not have enough strength in her hands to play any instrument, composes classical music.

“The fact that I cannot play the piano gave me another insight about music; that of how important music theory is. How important it is writing down the notes, to know what the notes mean and how they fit together. I write music for others to play, it is just as good as doing it myself,” she says.

Her love for music will not be left unpursued. Alexandra has plans, very detailed and carefully-drafted plans.

She had not chosen to do a double degree in arts and music this year but has postponed to study music next year. Her aim is to study a Diploma in Music in order to be professionally equipped to sing publicly and make some money to help the family finances.

“I postponed it because I want to get better with my anxiety management,” she says. “I get a bit anxious with musical exams, because I have never done one before. I want to be ready for this one.”

The capable, articulate lady of today has also considered a career in musical theatre. What inspired her was the thought that she could change the rules for people using wheelchairs who aspire to get on stage and pursue a career in musical theatre.

It is hard to believe this 18-year-old managed to get to this stage of her life without any hint of self pity. Her story is an inspiring and positive story, but life had taught me that for a person to acquire this insightful and wise perspective about life, chances are that had encountered adversity at some stage and it seems Alexandra is not the exception.

In one of her most passionate moments during our discussion she explains how she managed to be where she is today.

“It was hard to fit in at the beginning. I did what any typical blind person would do, I got up in front of my class and I used to show off all my equipment like all the other blind kids did. The thing is that I think blind people expect the friendship of other people to just come to them just because they are blind. but I found that it didn’t work like that.”

It was only a year ago that Alexandra realised this didn’t work.

“I was too busy showing off but not saying what I really wanted. I wanted empathy. Things came to me. Do you know why things came to me? Not because I held my laptop up in the air and said ‘this is my computer’, but because I said ‘I want friends, I am lonely’.”

Alexandra did not express her passionate plea just with words but with actions too. She joined the school choir, then for a year the school magazine committee and the debating team. She also started tutoring some of her schoolmates, giving them a helping hand through their VCE exam preparation process.

“That’s how I made friends. It is all about showing what you can do for others, giving before receiving … ” she says.

And that is the fabric heroes are made of.