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Blind GMU graduate achieves his dream

Mario Bonds, 22, graduates from George Mason University, where he will receive a bachelor¿s degree in broadcast journalism. Bonds is a triplet in a family of 10 children. He was born with a disease that attacks the optic nerve and went blind when he was 8.

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Washington Post staff writer
Saturday, May 15, 2010

Long before sunrise Friday, Mario Bonds was on the second floor of his home in Bowie, ironing a green graduation gown, fitting his cap and talking to his guide dog, an English Lab named Sidney, about how special the day was going to be.

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"You are going to walk across that stage. It is time to go to work," Bonds, 22, said as he sprinted down a flight of steps and grabbed his dog's harness in preparation for the trek to George Mason University to receive his bachelor's degree in broadcast journalism.

But Bonds, who is blind, forgot one important thing. In his excitement, he had not closed the door of a downstairs closet, and he crashed into it. Janice Dupree, one of Bonds's "two mothers," couldn't resist calling him a "big baby."

His graduation was the proud culmination of a struggle that began in infancy.

Bonds is a triplet in a family of 10 children. His mother died of a brain aneurysm when he was 5 months old. His father has been in prison most of the father's life.

Bonds was born with morning glory syndrome, a disease that attacks the optic nerve, and went blind when he was 8. He has been shuttled among emergency shelters, cheap motels, public housing and, finally, the home offered by the Duprees, the parents of a high school classmate.

Despite his hardships, Bonds has been a leader. When he was at Suitland High School, in Prince George's County, he served as a counselor and teacher during a technology summer camp by the Columbia Lighthouse for the Blind. He is an accomplished singer and piano player who has more than 1 million hits on YouTube.

"Our family was quite destitute all my life, so I used education and music to deal with the dysfunction," he said.

As Bonds waited for a cab to Bethesda -- where his other "mother," retired Fairfax County teacher Michele Weil, would take him to GMU's Patriot Center -- he summarized his feeling in Sarah McLachlan's song "Angel."

"You are pulled from the wreckage, of your silent reverie, you're in the arms of the angel, may you find some comfort here," he sang in a strong tenor.

Bonds credits his grandmother, Johnnie Mae Bonds, for not allowing him to be placed in a special school. In a 2004 Washington Post story she said, "He don't have a disability. . . . He's blind. He has a good brain."

About five years ago, Dupree took in the Bonds triplets, Mario and his two sisters. Her son had told her about a young man in the high school choir who didn't have a place to stay. She said that although the sisters stayed for about two weeks, their brother remained because he wanted stability in his senior year.

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