Tremaine Williams has never wanted people to make a fuss or give him any special treatment. So most of his classmates at Locke High School in South-Central Los Angeles don’t know he has been blind in one eye since elementary school and that he has only partial sight in the other.
“I wanted to make it on my own,” said Williams, 18, a senior who has won a scholarship to UCLA next year. “I don’t like to call it a handicap because I haven’t let it stop me.
“I just worked harder to compensate, just learned to be more creative. . . . I’ve managed to make myself into what I want to be.”
When he makes his commencement speech this month as salutatorian of his class, Williams plans to reveal his secret in hopes of inspiring his classmates to push themselves over whatever hurdles may confront them.
“I’ve had some trouble,” he said, “but it all works out.”
Keith Funk, head counselor at Locke, said Williams “never, never gives up.”
Funk said Williams also “has an insight into complex relationships” that is unusual in someone so young, and that while he is in many ways “just a normal kid . . . he is not swayed by peer pressure; he is very much his own man.”
Williams, who maintains a 3.8 grade average, has won several writing prizes, including first place in this year’s countywide Martin Luther King Jr. Art and Essay Contest, which netted him a $1,000 scholarship.
“The atrocities of this world can be abolished if we as a people work together to achieve it,” Williams wrote in his prize-winning essay. “This can only be done if we learn to live together in one environment, in one common world, working for a common dream.
"(King’s) dream has been passed down to my generation, and I will personally work to keep it alive.”
Williams recently was one of eight American students chosen to participate in a cultural exchange trip to Japan, an experience he describes as “just beautiful.”
Williams, who plans to study economics and, perhaps later, law, said he picked high goals for himself because of his father, a medical doctor in Cleveland.
“He was the first in our family to get a college degree . . . he set a certain standard. I’m proud of that, and I want to show him I can be successful, too,” said Williams, who lives with his grandparents.
He counts his grandparents, his school and the friends he has attended classes with since elementary school among his blessings.
But his passion since junior high school has been being part of a marching band. He is Locke’s drum major and one of three leading the Los Angeles Unified School District’s prestigious all-city band.
“That’s my joy,” he said of marching in a band.
It also once threatened to be his biggest disappointment, he said, recalling an incident that illustrates his determination to succeed.
“I played the clarinet, and because of my eyesight I don’t have any peripheral vision on my left and I couldn’t see the others next to me, so I was having trouble staying in the line,” he said.
“People started giving me a hard time. I felt bad, but I didn’t want to tell them why, and I didn’t want to give up marching band.”
So Williams taught himself to be a drum major, practiced hard and won the post.
“Now I have no problem,” he said, smiling broadly. “Now I have the whole band in my face.”