You can always tell when he’s is in the room.
He’s either talking, introducing himself to someone or asking questions.
And he is always asking questions.
When he was little, his mom used to call him Question Box.
Yes, Josh Walston can talk. This HPU senior can sell, sing and take prospective students and their families around the High Point University campus talking constantly about every corner of his academic home.
Then, if you ask about his sharp attire or his campus life, he’ll mention what he owns: 86 bow ties, 26 suits, 19 coffee mugs and a 15-pound suitcase that contains everything from his laptop to his business cards.
“My life is in that bag,’’ he tells anyone who asks.
Yet, ask about his life after graduation, and he’ll mention Austin, Texas.
He’s moving there this summer to work as an inside sales representative for VMware, a software company.
Then, in his own style of rapid-speak known around campus, he’ll talk about his cowboy boots, his cowboy hats and the thrill of putting the bumper sticker “Keep Austin Weird’’ on the back of his SUV.
But look closely.
Above Josh’s right ear is a scar, as faint as a pencil mark, almost three inches long. It’s a telltale sign from one of his 14 surgeries doctors performed to repair his bilateral cleft lip and palate.
Doctors predicted the worst for Josh. They believed he would have a hard time talking because of his birth defect. That is, if he could talk at all.
The doctors were wrong, though. Josh turned out to be a miracle kid.
In more ways than one.
Cammie Walston was in her early 30s, and she felt time was running out. But after the birth of her firstborn, the little boy with the round, inquisitive face, her concern dissipated. He was hers.
Then, she saw the worried look on her husband’s face. Right away, Cammie knew something was wrong.
She saw her son’s uneven ears and almond-shaped eyes, all indicative of a child with Down’s Syndrome. He wasn’t. But when her son was four days old, she heard what was true.
“I don’t think I can fix this,” a doctor told her. “Josh will probably not be able to talk without extensive speech therapy – if he’ll be able to talk at all.’’
So it began.
By age five, Josh had had six surgeries as well as a live-in assistant. Josh never thought of himself as different. But his classmates did. When he went to pre-school, one of his classmates stared at him and said, “How did you get a fat lip?’’
As Josh grew older, Cammie started volunteering in her son’s classes to help his confidence and squelch any hurtful comments. But as her son got older, the ugly comments came. She always told her son the same thing.
“That has more to do with them than with you,’’ she told him. “People will try to pull you down. That is what bullying is.’’
Her son listened. But really, he didn’t have to worry. He had family who engulfed him with love and support.
That helped. But Josh also helped himself.
‘Why Can’t I?’’
At nine, Josh had another surgery in which doctors took a quarter-sized section of bone from his right hip to help rebuild his jaw. Doctors predicted he wouldn’t be able to walk for several weeks. Josh walked in two days.
At 14, doctors had to rebuild his nose using connective tissue taken from Josh’s skull. The operation ended up taking longer than doctors anticipated – nearly eight hours.
Josh woke up in a different room, hooked to an array of equipment, and he listened to a doctor give him the grim news. Josh almost died.
“Well, I’m glad I’m here,’’ Josh said.
“So are we,’’ the doctor responded.
That 14th surgery ended up being Josh’s last one. He still remembers that today. All he has to do is look in the mirror and see the three-inch scar above his right ear.
“I’m fortunate to be alive,’’ he says today. “I know that. Up to that point, I had defeated everything doctors told me I couldn’t do. But after I had gotten through my last surgery, I knew I was going to wake up every day and feel better than I did the day before.’’
Josh became the vice president of his high school’s senior class in Lincolnton, North Carolina.
When he came to HPU, he found a welcoming place where he found his niche.
First, he sang. He started with University Singers, later with the HPU Chamber Singers. Then, he sold. He got involved with the Phillips School of Business Selling Club and sold suits at a men’s clothing store in High Point.
With selling, he got better. Last month, he attended the National Collegiate Selling Competition at Kennesaw State University in Georgia, and afterward, he received a job offer from VMware – one of five job offers he received.
In May, he’ll graduate from HPU with something doctors thought he’d never get – or never do. He’ll graduate with a degree in strategic communication, with a minor in history.
Then in August, he’ll move to Texas. At 22, he knows he has won. The sculptures on the Kester International Promenade remind him of that.
“If they did these great things in their lifetime, why can’t I?’’ he says. “No one is put on this earth without a purpose. Like Albert Einstein. He was a man who was a little quirky and he changed the world. Or Gandhi. He was a little quirky, and he changed the world.
And now, here I am. Josh Walston. Why can’t I change the world?’’
Josh Tells His Story
His mom and stepdad stay busy at Josh’s academic home. They’re both co-chairs of the HPU Parents Council. Meanwhile, Josh meets people wherever he goes.
He works as a university ambassador leading prospective students and their families around campus. Whenever he gives a tour, Josh fills almost every second of conversation with a tidbit about his campus.
More than once he’s heard someone say, “Someone said he had a birth defect. Where?’’
But Josh never really talked about it. That is until 18 months ago when HPU President Dr. Nido Qubein made a passing comment to Walston’s mom about her son’s singing.
“That is music to our ears knowing Josh’s background,’’ Cammie told Dr. Qubein.
“What do you mean Josh’s background?’’ Dr. Qubein responded.
Within weeks, Dr. Qubein had Josh standing in front of a crowd of staff and faculty at the Hayworth Fine Arts Center. He had Josh to tell his story.
In the back stood Cammie. She didn’t want her only child to see her. She simply wanted to listen. She knew every detail. Still, she cried.
“Look how far you’ve come, Joshie Bear,’’ she told herself. “Look how far you’ve come.’’