Jacob Allen sits at a gleaming grand piano, his hands poised above the keyboard.

“What do you feel more comfortable with, the boogie or waltz?” asks his piano teacher, Vera Dumova.

“Boogie,” says Jacob, 20, without hesitating.

“Let’s go,” Dumova says.

Jacob begins to play, his long fingers moving swiftly up and down the keyboard.

Since he can’t read music, he plays by memory – using his sense of touch to measure the distance between the piano keys.

Jacob has bilateral anophthalmia. He was born without eyes.

His mother, Jane, a teacher in Old Orchard Beach, remembers the moment she realized something was wrong with her newborn baby.

“When they (the nurses) go to put the silver nitrate in his eyes,” she says, “they couldn’t open them.”

“We didn’t realize the impact that blindness would have,” she says, wiping away tears. “You knew it was going to be different, but you didn’t know how.”

Jane and her husband, John, weren’t sure if Jacob’s disability would affect his ability to learn and communicate. That was a big worry.

But on his first birthday, Jacob gave them a gift.

“He sat at the bottom of those stairs,” Jane says, pointing to a short staircase in the family’s home, “and we sang, ‘If you’re happy and you know it clap your hands,’ and he did it all by himself.”

That’s when the Allens knew that, despite the challenges, Jacob would be OK.

That’s when they decided to do all they could to give him a life without limits.

“We did things as a family,” his mother says. “We camped, and we went on vacation – we did everything. There’s nothing we didn’t do because Jacob couldn’t see.”

It helped that Jacob greeted just about every day with a milewide smile. He still does.

“He’s a happy, happy guy, for sure,” Jane says. “He’s brought us a lot of joy.”

Jacob attended high school in Old Orchard Beach and then, two years ago, enrolled at the Perkins School for the Blind in Watertown, Massachusetts, to focus on developing skills for “real life.” There, he’s known for his quirky sense of humor.

“Blind guy coming through!” he shouts as he steps quickly down the stairs in his dorm, Keller Sullivan cottage.

Outside, swinging his white cane back and forth over the sidewalk, Jacob makes his way across campus to his piano lesson.

“We’re cruising at an altitude of 5,000 feet,” he announces to anyone listening. “We should be landing in just a few minutes.”

Jacob’s philosophy is simple: Take life a day at a time, and enjoy it.

“I get up every day, and I say, ‘You know what? Whatever happens, happens,’ ” he says.

That positive attitude has shaped his life. And his education at Perkins has provided the crucial finishing touches. There, it’s all about independence.

“These students are people with potential,” says case manager and transition coordinator Denise Fitzgerald, a 26-year veteran of the school. “But if we treat them like they have none, they won’t have any.”

In the bright, open kitchen of his dorm, Jacob takes a plate of chicken nuggets out of a microwave.

“Hot stuff coming through,” he says, waving a tray in the air.

Home and personal management teacher Susan Lind-Sinanian watches as Jacob makes his way across the room, but she doesn’t reach out to help.

Neither does budgeting coach Steve Fox when – later in the day – he suggests Jacob practice using the ATM in the student lounge.

“You can find the machine, right?” Fox says.

“I’m not sure,” Jacob replies.

“Give it a shot,” Fox says.

Denise Fitzgerald says there’s no coddling at Perkins because there’s no coddling in the real world. And the real world is right around the corner.

On June 13, Jacob Allen and 18 other students graduated from Perkins – to cheers and applause, hugs and tears.

“I feel kind of sad but happy, too,” Jacob says, standing in his bright blue cap and gown, surrounded by family, friends and his former teachers and principal from Old Orchard. “Sad because I’m going to leave this perfect place.”

Happy because he’s full of plans for the future.

“My dream?” he says, “I hope to have a wife and kids. Hope to do what my mom and dad did.”

Perkins staff members have visited Maine a number of times to make sure the resources are in place for Jacob’s transition back home. For now, he’ll live with his parents.

But someday he’ll have his own place. His own, independent life.

“I kind of want to do a massage therapy business. … My aunt’s a massage therapist.”

The thought of all he hopes to accomplish in that wide-open world is enough to bring yet another smile to his face.

“It feels really awesome,” he says.

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