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Despite Physical Challenges, Michael Smedley Rises Above Penn State’s Best

On paper, Michael Smedley is one of Penn State’s most prestigious students. After all, he’s graduating summa cum laude in just a few weeks.

Smedley ranks in the top 0.5% of his class and will soon receive bachelor’s degrees in theatrical sound design and telecommunications. He’s pursuing minors in music technology in business law, too. Even in his last semester, Smedley took a whopping 21 credits, although that’s a significant drop from his personal record of 29 in a single term.

In person, Smedley is even more impressive. He’s established himself as one of Penn State’s finest despite living with Leber congenital amaurosis, an eye disorder that’s rendered him blind since birth. Still, he feels he’s lived a fairly normal life.

“There were little modifications that needed to be made, but I went through regular Council Rock public school, played on the football team, swam, wrestled…I did pretty much everything that everyone else did,” Smedley said. “I was fortunate that we lived in a spot that had really good resources for getting the classroom materials made accessible. But the physical [aspect], like walking through school and the social aspects, are always fine.”

After graduating high school, Smedley traveled down to Nashville, Tennessee, where he studied at Belmont University. While he doesn’t have bad memories of his time at Belmont, Smedley felt that the size of the school didn’t suit his needs.

During high school, Smedley didn’t have an interest in following the large portion of his class that was going to Penn State. However, after his freshman year down south, Smedley took a route that he wanted previously wanted to avoid and made the trip to University Park.

“I found the sound design program here,” he said. “You can make of the program which you want and you get all the massive opportunities that come with Penn State.”

Given that most of his work is digitally based, Smedley hasn’t had a difficult time with his studies since coming to Penn State. Most of his work comes in the form of PDFs and Microsoft Word documents, which his phone and computer read back to him at speeds indistinguishable to the normal ear.

While he’s not hitting the books, you might find Smedley at a football or basketball game. Despite some of his limitations, he’s actually probably got a better grasp on the game than those sitting around him in the student section.

“I’ve been to every home game that I’ve been a student here,” he said. “The best $7 I ever spent was for a battery-powered pocket radio on Amazon. I just take an earbud in one ear and get the play-by-play broadcast because it’s only a half-second behind.”

Smedley continued to share his one-of-a-kind experiences in Beaver Stadium over the years.

“Two games into [the 2019 season, I was] in the student section in the south end zone, and there was a play on the north goal line that they were they were reviewing and no one can see because the jumbotron wasn’t showing good angles,” he said. “I had the entirety of the radio team dissecting it in my ear. I was a sophomore, and one of the seniors asked what was happening, so I was giving him the play-by-play.”

In addition to his time in the student section, Smedley has used Penn State events to help his experience on the soundboard. He’s worked on shows that have visited the Bryce Jordan Center and pumped synthetic sound into Beaver Stadium when fans couldn’t attend games during the 2020 season.

“It’s been great. I normally have assistants when I need them,” he said. “It’s literally like flying a space shuttle trying to mix the shows. So, I’ll have an assistant work with me to actually do the under the hood programming, but I’ll set up the surface in a way that I’m able to work with for the rest of the show.”

When Smedley graduates this May, he’ll head down to Orlando, Florida, to intern for Disney Live Entertainment. Despite the challenges that may face him in the future, Smedley says Penn State has physically prepared him more than most universities could as a blind student.

“I think staying at a smaller school like Belmont would have ended up being a disservice to me because their campus was super small, and it was very easy to navigate because everything was so close together,” he said. “Being at a campus like Penn State and running all over the place and jumping on buses…I’m a lot more used to moving around a very large space. Disney is a lot bigger than this campus, but it’s a lot bigger than a small campus.”

“It is a trial by fire,” he added.

Wherever Smedley’s career takes him, it’s hard to doubt that he’ll succeed. As he notes, his work ethic has taken him far, and his condition has never slowed him down.

“I grew up, and I’ve just always been a hard worker,” he said.

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About the Author

Joe Lister

Joe is a freshman journalism major at Penn State. He enjoys yelling into the void over things such as the Philadelphia Union, the United States Men's Nation Team (soccer), Eagles, and Penn State football, alongside whatever else comes to mind. Find (and disagree with him) on Twitter (Joe_Lister21).

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