In a remarkable journey of determination and triumph, Jason Arday, a young man with autism, has defied all odds to become one of the youngest professors at the prestigious Cambridge University, two decades after struggling to read or write.
Arday's childhood was marked by a diagnosis of global developmental delay, severely impacting his ability to communicate and learn essential skills such as reading and writing. As a result, therapists predicted a life of assisted living and lifelong support for him. However, Arday, now 37 years old, has shattered those expectations by securing one of the most esteemed professorships at Cambridge University and making history as the youngest Black person to achieve this feat.
Growing up in a disadvantaged area of Clapham, London, and facing the challenges of a learning disability, Arday possessed a burning curiosity about the world. He pondered deep questions like the causes of homelessness and the reasons behind wars. Arday recalled his thoughts at the time, saying, "I remember thinking if I don't make it as a football player, then I want to save the world."
Although Arday only learned to read and write in his teenage years, he pursued higher education and became a physical education (PE) teacher after studying at the University of Surrey. However, his thirst for knowledge and desire to make a difference persisted, despite the lack of training and guidance he faced. Arday shared his early experiences in academia, stating, "When I started writing academic papers, I had no idea what I was doing. I did not have a mentor, and no one ever showed me how to write." Undeterred by the challenging peer review process, he used setbacks as learning opportunities.
At the age of 27, Arday scribbled a profound message on his bedroom wall at his parents' house: "One day I will work at Oxford or Cambridge." Encouragement from a college friend, Sandro Sandi, further fueled his belief in himself and his potential to conquer the academic world. Arday reflected on that pivotal moment, saying, "Looking back, that was when I first really believed in myself. A lot of academics say they stumbled into this line of work, but from that moment, I was determined and focused – I knew that this would be my goal."
Balancing his responsibilities as a PE teacher with his relentless pursuit of knowledge, Arday dedicated his nights to studying and writing papers. His efforts paid off, leading him to earn two master's degrees and a PhD in educational studies from Liverpool John Moores University. During his PhD studies in 2015, he co-edited a groundbreaking report titled 'Aiming Higher' for the Runnymede Trust, shedding light on racial and ethnic inequalities in British universities. In 2018, Arday achieved another milestone by publishing his first solo paper.
His reputation as an accomplished scholar grew, and he secured a Senior Lectureship at Roehampton University before transitioning to become an Associate Professor of Sociology at Durham University. Later, Arday held a prestigious professorship at the University of Glasgow's School of Education, solidifying his position as one of the youngest professors in the United Kingdom.
Now, on March 6th, Arday embarks on his newest adventure as the Professor of Sociology of Education at Cambridge University, joining the ranks of five other Black professors at the institution. Driven by his commitment to expanding opportunities for individuals from disadvantaged backgrounds and democratizing higher education, Arday aims to use his position at Cambridge to lead this agenda nationally and globally.
Through his groundbreaking work and inspiring journey, Arday exemplifies the power of resilience, determination, and the pursuit of knowledge. With the hope of making a lasting impact on the world, he aspires to create a more inclusive and accessible educational landscape. Cambridge University welcomes Jason Arday, who just might save the world—or at least his own little corner of it.
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Via CBS News