DENTON (UNT), Texas — University of North Texas sophomore Nikki Lyssy learned to surf when she was in middle school, during a family vacation to Texas' Gulf coast.
When Lyssy had the chance to try parasailing in Port Aransas a few years later, she couldn’t wait to soar above the bay — and not being able to see the sky or the ocean below wouldn’t stop her.
That’s why Lyssy, an English major at UNT who has been blind since birth, was so eager to share her parasailing experience with others. Her essay, "Uncharted Waters," won a Barbara Jordan Media Award after being published in the newspaper for her high school, Westlake High School in Austin. Lyssy accepted her award in March 2014, when UNT's Frank W. and Sue Mayborn School of Journalism hosted the awards luncheon ceremony. The school will host the Barbara Jordan Media Awards for a second time April 13 (Thursday), in partnership with the Texas Governor's Committee on People with Disabilities, UNT’s Division of Institutional Equity and Diversity and the College of Health and Public Service (formerly the College of Public Affairs and Community Service).
This year's Barbara Jordan Media Awards luncheon will begin at 11:30 a.m. at the Club Level of UNT's Apogee Stadium, located at 1251 Bonnie Brae. Individual tickets are $25 and student tickets are $15.To purchase tickets, go to the event website.
Named in honor of the Houston native and U.S. congressional representative who gained recognition for her work despite her multiple sclerosis, the awards are open to media professionals and high school and college students who have produced material that accurately and positively reports on or depicts individuals with disabilities. A panel of judges, including media professionals and people with disabilities, select winners from entries in several categories.
Lyssy and her twin sister Kendal, also a UNT student, were born with a condition that develops among premature infants and results in detached retinas and blindness within a few days after a birth. The sisters consider their blindness as just another characteristic of themselves, rather than a disability. That's one reason why they went to Port Aransas for parasailing, on a trip offered to visually impaired students by a nonprofit organization.
Lyssy said the 2014 awards ceremony was the first time she visited the UNT campus. She and her sister ended up applying to the university the next year.
"I remember being in awe at meeting the other winners. I truly believe the highest honor that a writer can receive is recognition from other writers, and I'm glad I could have the opportunity to show that blindness doesn’t have to hold you back," she said.
At UNT, Lyssy has written for the North Texas Daily for three semesters. After graduating in 2019, she plans to earn a master's degree in English and teach high school or college English classes.
She also hopes to enter the Barbara Jordan awards again. After winning in 2014, Lyssy submitted another entry in 2015, but lost to another Westlake student. Since then, Lyssy has looked for opportunities to write about individuals with disabilities.
"I really love getting to know people. I love hearing people's stories and getting to tell them," she said.
For more information on the Barbara Jordan Media Awards luncheon, contact Brandee Hartley in the Mayborn School of Journalism at 940-565-2095 or firstname.lastname@example.org, or Christi Hestand in the Division of Institutional Equity and Diversity at 940-565-2711 or Christi.email@example.com.