My name is Jack Donehey-Nykiel. I have Asperger’s Syndrome which is a form of high-functioning autism. I am 23 years old and currently attend DePaul University in Chicago. I am majoring in Islamic World Studies and am minoring in Religious Studies. All my life, my fascination with other cultures has been a part of who I am. Despite many challenges (such as frequently getting lost, and not being good at math or science), I have managed to be successful in my college career. In fact, due to my academic success, I was recently inducted into the National Society of Collegiate Scholars and the Golden Key Honor Society.
My personal interests primarily center around other cultures, and especially other languages and religions. The two religions with which I am the most fascinated are Islam and Hinduism. In fact, my interest in Hinduism goes beyond mere intellectual fascination. I got into it after taking a Religions of the World class at William Rainey Harper College in Palatine, IL where I took most of my undergraduate required courses and earned the first Scholarship Awarded by the Access and Disabilities Department. Through my study of Hinduism, I came to realize that not only is Hinduism appealing to me intellectually---but also spiritually. Indeed, it is a personal goal of mine to one day study all aspects of Hinduism formally with a guru because in my opinion, when studying any spiritual tradition, books, college classes and other worldly sources of knowledge can only take one so far and after awhile one has to find someone who lives and breathes the spiritual tradition in question, for one to get the most out of any religiously-themed intellectual pursuits.
As I mentioned, I am now majoring in Islamic World Studies. My fascination with Islam grew out of a prior interest in Africa. You see, when I was about eight years old I got into Africa after “moving on” from a prior interest in epidemiology. My mother suggested that we read the famous book, Roots, by Alex Haley in which he recounts his family history, all the way down to his famous ancestor, the African slave, Kunta Kinte. In this book, I learned that Kunta Kinte followed the Muslim religion; and at the time, I knew very little about Islam, and I learned a lot about it from that book. Thus, I became very curious about the history and culture of the Muslim world; and so I began buying and borrowing books and documentaries on Islam en masse from various sources, and began to teach myself the Arabic language. Little did I know that the world was going to need this type of knowledge later on!
In sharp contrast to when I was in high school, in college I have encountered many more individuals who are, to varying degrees, interested in my field of study. In high school, I only knew a couple of classmates who even remotely shared my interests. In fact in the special education evaluations written by the high school teachers, it was reported that I “talked like a 23 year old” when I was in my teens. Now that I am in college, surrounded by other young adults who are more likely to be more well read and thus more likely to comprehend my manner of speech and who are more likely to be better versed in the subjects in which I am interested, there is now a higher likelihood that my classmates actually appreciate my interests. If not that, there is, at the very least, a better chance that my classmates regard my interests as legitimate and not view my interests as weird or abnormal. Regardless of the degree to which my classmates may (or may not) share those same interests, unlike in high school or middle school, I feel freer to openly express my fascination with such topics as Islam or Hinduism without feeling like the “odd man out.”
Written By and Copyright- Jack D. N. 3/26/2009
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