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  • Can any of you

  • remember what you wanted to be

  • when you were 17?

  • Do you know what I wanted to be?

  • I wanted to be a biker chick.

  • (Laughter)

  • I wanted to race cars,

  • and I wanted to be a cowgirl,

  • and I wanted to be Mowgli from "The Jungle Book."

  • Because they were all about being free,

  • the wind in your hair -- just to be free.

  • And on my seventeenth birthday,

  • my parents, knowing how much I loved speed,

  • gave me one driving lesson

  • for my seventeenth birthday.

  • Not that we could have afforded I drive,

  • but to give me the dream of driving.

  • And on my seventeenth birthday,

  • I accompanied my little sister

  • in complete innocence,

  • as I always had all my life --

  • my visually impaired sister --

  • to go to see an eye specialist.

  • Because big sisters

  • are always supposed to support their little sisters.

  • And my little sister wanted to be a pilot --

  • God help her.

  • So I used to get my eyes tested

  • just for fun.

  • And on my seventeenth birthday,

  • after my fake eye exam,

  • the eye specialist just noticed it happened to be my birthday.

  • And he said, "So what are you going to do to celebrate?"

  • And I took that driving lesson,

  • and I said, "I'm going to learn how to drive."

  • And then there was a silence --

  • one of those awful silences

  • when you know something's wrong.

  • And he turned to my mother,

  • and he said, "You haven't told her yet?"

  • On my seventeenth birthday,

  • as Janis Ian would best say,

  • I learned the truth at 17.

  • I am, and have been since birth,

  • legally blind.

  • And you know,

  • how on earth did I get to 17

  • and not know that?

  • Well, if anybody says country music isn't powerful,

  • let me tell you this:

  • I got there

  • because my father's passion for Johnny Cash

  • and a song, "A Boy Named Sue."

  • I'm the eldest of three. I was born in 1971.

  • And very shortly after my birth,

  • my parents found out I had a condition called ocular albinism.

  • And what the hell does that mean to you?

  • So let me just tell you, the great part of all of this?

  • I can't see this clock and I can't see the timing,

  • so holy God, woohoo! (Laughter)

  • I might buy some more time.

  • But more importantly, let me tell you --

  • I'm going to come up really close here. Don't freak out, Pat.

  • Hey.

  • See this hand?

  • Beyond this hand is a world of Vaseline.

  • Every man in this room, even you, Steve,

  • is George Clooney.

  • (Laughter)

  • And every woman, you are so beautiful.

  • And when I want to look beautiful, I step three feet away from the mirror,

  • and I don't have to see these lines etched in my face

  • from all the squinting I've done all my life

  • from all the dark lights.

  • The really strange part is

  • that, at three and a half, just before I was going to school,

  • my parents made a bizarre, unusual

  • and incredibly brave decision.

  • No special needs schools.

  • No labels.

  • No limitations.

  • My ability and my potential.

  • And they decided to tell me

  • that I could see.

  • So just like Johnny Cash's Sue,

  • a boy given a girl's name,

  • I would grow up and learn from experience

  • how to be tough and how to survive,

  • when they were no longer there to protect me,

  • or just take it all away.

  • But more significantly,

  • they gave me the ability

  • to believe,

  • totally, to believe that I could.

  • And so when I heard that eye specialist

  • tell me all the things, a big fat "no,"

  • everybody imagines I was devastated.

  • And don't get me wrong, because when I first heard it --

  • aside from the fact that I thought he was insane --

  • I got that thump in my chest,

  • just that "huh?"

  • But very quickly I recovered. It was like that.

  • The first thing I thought about was my mom,

  • who was crying over beside me.

  • And I swear to God, I walked out of his office,

  • "I will drive. I will drive.

  • You're mad. I'll drive. I know I can drive."

  • And with the same dogged determination

  • that my father had bred into me since I was such a child --

  • he taught me how to sail,

  • knowing I could never see where I was going, I could never see the shore,

  • and I couldn't see the sails, and I couldn't see the destination.

  • But he told me to believe

  • and feel the wind in my face.

  • And that wind in my face made me believe

  • that he was mad and I would drive.

  • And for the next 11 years,

  • I swore nobody would ever find out that I couldn't see,

  • because I didn't want to be a failure,

  • and I didn't want to be weak.

  • And I believed I could do it.

  • So I rammed through life as only a Casey can do.

  • And I was an archeologist, and then I broke things.

  • And then I managed a restaurant, and then I slipped on things.

  • And then I was a masseuse. And then I was a landscape gardener.

  • And then I went to business school.

  • And you know, disabled people are hugely educated.

  • And then I went in and I got a global consulting job with Accenture.

  • And they didn't even know.

  • And it's extraordinary

  • how far belief can take you.

  • In 1999,

  • two and a half years into that job,

  • something happened.

  • Wonderfully, my eyes decided, enough.

  • And temporarily,

  • very unexpectedly,

  • they dropped.

  • And I'm in one of the most competitive environments in the world,

  • where you work hard, play hard, you gotta be the best, you gotta be the best.

  • And two years in,

  • I really could see very little.

  • And I found myself in front of an HR manager

  • in 1999,

  • saying something I never imagined that I would say.

  • I was 28 years old.

  • I had built a persona all around what I could and couldn't do.

  • And I simply said,

  • "I'm sorry.

  • I can't see, and I need help."

  • Asking for help can be incredibly difficult.

  • And you all know what it is. You don't need to have a disability to know that.

  • We all know how hard it is

  • to admit weakness and failure.

  • And it's frightening, isn't it?

  • But all that belief had fueled me so long.

  • And can I tell you, operating in the sighted world when you can't see,

  • it's kind of difficult -- it really is.

  • Can I tell you, airports are a disaster.

  • Oh, for the love of God.

  • And please, any designers out there?

  • OK, designers, please put up your hands, even though I can't even see you.

  • I always end up in the gents' toilets.

  • And there's nothing wrong with my sense of smell.

  • But can I just tell you,

  • the little sign for a gents' toilet or a ladies' toilet

  • is determined by a triangle.

  • Have you ever tried to see that

  • if you have Vaseline in front of your eyes?

  • It's such a small thing, right?

  • And you know how exhausting it can be

  • to try to be perfect when you're not,

  • or to be somebody that you aren't?

  • And so after admitting I couldn't see to HR,

  • they sent me off to an eye specialist.

  • And I had no idea that this man was going to change my life.

  • But before I got to him, I was so lost.

  • I had no idea who I was anymore.

  • And that eye specialist, he didn't bother testing my eyes.

  • God no, it was therapy.

  • And he asked me several questions,

  • of which many were, "Why?

  • Why are you fighting so hard

  • not to be yourself?

  • And do you love what you do, Caroline?"

  • And you know, when you go to a global consulting firm,

  • they put a chip in your head, and you're like,

  • "I love Accenture. I love Accenture. I love my job. I love Accenture.

  • I love Accenture. I love Accenture. I love my job. I love Accenture." (Laughter)

  • To leave would be failure.

  • And he said, "Do you love it?"

  • I couldn't even speak I was so choked up.

  • I just was so -- how do I tell him?

  • And then he said to me, "What did you want to be when you were little?"

  • Now listen, I wasn't going to say to him, "Well, I wanted to race cars and motorbikes."

  • Hardly appropriate at this moment in time.

  • He thought I was mad enough anyway.

  • And as I left his office,

  • he called me back

  • and he said, "I think it's time.

  • I think it's time

  • to stop fighting and do something different."

  • And that door closed.

  • And that silence just outside a doctor's office,

  • that many of us know.

  • And my chest ached.

  • And I had no idea where I was going. I had no idea.

  • But I did know the game was up.

  • And I went home, and, because the pain in my chest ached so much,

  • I thought, "I'll go out for a run."

  • Really not a very sensible thing to do.

  • And I went on a run that I know so well.

  • I know this run so well, by the back of my hand.

  • I always run it perfectly fine.

  • I count the steps and the lampposts and all those things

  • that visually impaired people have a tendency to have a lot of meetings with.

  • And there was a rock that I always missed.

  • And I'd never fallen on it, never.

  • And there I was crying away,

  • and smash, bash on my rock.

  • Broken, fallen over

  • on this rock

  • in the middle of March in 2000,

  • typical Irish weather on a Wednesday --

  • gray, snot, tears everywhere,

  • ridiculously self-pitying.

  • And I was floored, and I was broken,

  • and I was angry.

  • And I didn't know what to do.

  • And I sat there for quite some time going,

  • "How am I going to get off this rock and go home?

  • Because who am I going to be?

  • What am I going to be?"

  • And I thought about my dad,

  • and I thought, "Good God, I'm so not Sue now."

  • And I kept thinking over and over in my mind,

  • what had happened? Where did it go wrong? Why didn't I understand?

  • And you know, the extraordinary part of it

  • is I just simply had no answers.

  • I had lost my belief.

  • Look where my belief had brought me to.

  • And now I had lost it. And now I really couldn't see.

  • I was crumpled.

  • And then I remember thinking about that eye specialist

  • asking me, "What do you want to be? What do you want to be?

  • What did you want to be when you were little? Do you love what you do?

  • Do something different. What do you want to be?

  • Do something different. What do you want to be?"

  • And really slowly, slowly, slowly,

  • it happened.

  • And it did happen this way.

  • And then the minute it came,

  • it blew up in my head

  • and bashed in my heart --

  • something different.

  • "Well, how about Mowgli from 'The Jungle Book'?

  • You don't get more different than that."

  • And the moment, and I mean the moment,

  • the moment that hit me,

  • I swear to God,