Senior Tim Cordes makes history

Author: Dennis Brown

What new Notre Dame graduate Tim Cordes lacks in eyesight, he more than makes up for in a vision for his life – what he can accomplish with it and how he can use it to shape the world around him.p. Cordes, the valedictorian at the University’s 1998 Commencement exercises May 17, is the second blind person ever to be accepted to an American school of medicine. A biochemistry major with a 3.991 grade pointaverage (an A- in Spanish is the only “blemish” on his record), Cordes has been accepted into the M.D./Ph.D. program at the University of Wisconsin Medical School and will begin his studies in June.p. David Hartman, a 1976 graduate of the Temple University Medical School, was the first blind person to be admitted to a U.S. school of medicine and is now a practicing psychiatrist in Roanoke, Va. Several medical schools have accepted partially blind students, but Hartman and Cordes are thought to be the only two completely blind people to gain admission.p. Hartman’s autobiography, “White Coat, White Cane,” which Cordes has read, was published in 1979 and subsequently made into a movie. Cordes has received substantial attention from the news media, including profiles on The Today Show and in The Washington Post.p. The M.D./Ph.D. program at Wisconsin is a seven-year course of study that includes two years of medical school, two to three years of research and two years of clinical rotations. Cordes plans ultimately to concentrateon research work in biochemistry and pathology.p. Cordes was born legally blind with a genetic condition called Leber’s Disease. What limited vision he once had diminished over time and he was completely blind by his sophomore year in high school.p. He says his lack of vision is “a challenge to be creative, but otherwise it isn’t any more difficult.” He is assisted by his Seeing Eyedog, a German shepherd named “Electra.”p. Cordes became interested in science at an early age. “I’ve dreamt of doing research ever since I was 12 and I got a copy of Science News in Braille and flipped it open to the biomedicine section,” he says. “I thought, I want to do that. And now I am.”p. As a participant in the Howard Hughes Medical Institute Research Program, Cordes has worked for the past two years in the Notre Dame laboratory of Paul Helquist, professor of chemistry and biochemistry, studying the development of new antibiotics in pharmaceutical research.Helquist anticipates at least two scientific journal publications will be forthcoming as a result of Cordes’ work.p. “Mr. Cordes is the brightest student with whom I have worked during 24 years of university teaching,” Helquist wrote in nominating him for valedictorian.p. In addition to his classroom and research activities, Cordes volunteered as a chemistry and biochemistry tutor and assumed a leadership role in the Notre Dame student chapter of the American Chemical Society. He served as treasurer of Dillon Hall and was a section representative in the residence hall’s government. He recently earned a black belt in tae kwon do and jujitsu.p. “The challenge is to make every second count,” Cordes said in his valedictory address. “It is easy to become complacent, to be willing to accept less than one’s best, or to put off giving one’s best until another time. We all know that feeling when we let those paper deadlines slowly creep up on us. ‘Oh, I still have a week … a day … an hour …’ But what these close calls and all-nighters have taught us is that we can come through when we need to. These instances show us that our best is there,waiting to be tapped. Now, it becomes our challenge to harness it so thatgiving our best is not a rare event, it is a way of living. No matter the task, or the outcome, the work itself helps us grow. It is our continual choice to say yes to what we could be that makes us who we are.”p. A 1994 graduate of Columbus High School in Waterloo, Iowa, Cordes is the son of Tom and Therese Cordes, now of Eldridge, Iowa, near the Quad Cities.p.


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