'I Wouldn’t Change Anything for the World'
Kent State University student Sean Fitzgerald shares what it’s like being a resident assistant (RA), co-hosting a sports radio show and living on the autism spectrum.
Sean Fitzgerald traces the beginning of his love of sports and talking about sports to car rides with his father in his hometown of Strongsville, Ohio. Together, they talked sports while listening to Northeast Ohio sports personality Kenny Roda on the radio. Fast forward a decade or so and now, in his junior year, Fitzgerald is beginning his fifth semester co-hosting his own popular sports radio program on Kent State’s Black Squirrel Radio.
Fitzgerald is currently half of the duo of “Fitz and Enzo” (Enzo Orlando) on Black Squirrel Radio. Last fall, when he was partnered with Mitch Spinell, their program was named the second-highest-rated sports program on the station and was the third highest ranked overall. Spinell since graduated and now works on Cleveland’s 92.3 “The Fan” sports radio station.
In his time with Black Squirrel Radio, Fitzgerald has interviewed well-known sports personalities, including NBA analyst Chris Broussard, Cleveland sports broadcasters Bruce Drennan and Mark “Munch” Bishop as well as Cleveland Browns linebacker Joe Schobert. The opportunity to be on-air, even as a freshman, is part of what drew Fitzgerald to choose Kent State.
Finding Kent State
Kent State was one of five schools on Fitzgerald’s “short list.” In the summer after his junior year of high school, Fitzgerald visited Kent State with his family. “It was really beautiful,” Fitzgerald said. “The campus caught my eye like a gemstone – perfect. I felt really good.”
In addition to having the kind of accredited journalism program Fitzgerald was looking for, Kent State offered him the chance to get on-air in his first year. “I know that (in) some other schools in Ohio, you can’t jump right into student media,” Fitzgerald said. “I could jump into anything I wanted to right off the bat.”
Fitzgerald also found something else he really liked at Kent State: its people. “What I like best about Kent State is the people,” he said. “There are a lot of really helpful, great people, may they be professor or people in other programs here on campus. They’re just the people who make the experience here so good. I don’t think I could have chosen a better place to come with how welcoming this campus is and how inclusive it is as well.”
Sharing a Message of Success
As a young sports fan, Fitzgerald had envisioned himself attending college, maybe as a baseball player or an Ohio State Buckeye. He admits, however, that his sixth, seventh or eighth grade self might be “incredulous” at his achievements now. “He would have told me ‘You’re kidding,’” Fitzgerald said. “And I’d be like, ‘Nope. All this amazing stuff has happened to you and it’s because you worked hard, and you did everything you needed to do.’” Thinking back, Fitzgerald said, “I didn’t initially think I’d end up here all those years ago, but I’m here now and I’m glad. I’m really happy here. “
Asked what advice he might give to a high school student who is on the spectrum and thinking about attending Kent State, Fitzgerald offered this advice: “Kent State is very supportive. You should definitely come here because this is where a lot of people – whether or not they know it – once they get here and get that help, they’re just going to just hit the ground running and be able to just take off.” He said that he would recommend the support groups he has interacted with on campus, such as Student Accessibility Services (SAS). Fitzgerald said, “I would refer them to those folks and be like ‘Hey, these people can help you out. I know them. Trust me, they are great!’”
A Personal Perspective on Autism and Identity
When asked about what he would like people to know about people with autism and him personally, Fitzgerald said he knows that people have misconceptions about autism. “I think a stereotype that is out there is that people with autism are dumb; they don’t know how to speak,” he said. “There are people who are smart who have it and it’s not like everyone is going to be the same. Not everyone has the same challenges. Some people may have more, some people less.”
“You don’t really know until you go through it. It’s a roller coaster ride,” Fitzgerald continued. “And once you’re on it you just learn where the hiccups are and then just figure out the rest from there. It’s not something ever set in stone.”
Fitzgerald calls himself “a sports guy.” He said that he also has hobbies outside of sports but jokes that “others may think otherwise.” He wants people to know that he is a kind person who is willing to help out. In his role as an RA, Fitzgerald says he wants to be honest and fair and give back to others whenever he can.
In speaking about his personal perspective on autism, Fitzgerald said, “I don’t think people would ask me this: ‘Would you ever get rid of it?’ I don’t think I’d ever want to get rid of who I am because I feel like I’d be a totally different person if I weren’t on the spectrum,” Fitzgerald said. “It’s something that once you accept it and you learn how to deal with it… sure, you’ll have stuff that maybe pops up every now and then, or you saw those struggles every day going through your certain challenges, but really for me – I wouldn’t change anything for the world.”
Being Part of a Campus Community
As an RA in Stopher and Johnson halls, Fitzgerald is part of the honors living-learning community there. He says that in being an RA there’s a challenge in living where you work. However, being an honors student himself, Fitzgerald feels that he’s a perfect fit for the job. He understands the challenges that honors students have in maintaining a healthy balance in their academic studies and social lives. “I just love helping people,” Fitzgerald said. “Staff members welcomed me and made me feel welcome. I want to give back what others have given to me. That’s part of my mantra.”
His positive feelings about the people are mirrored in his feelings about the campus environment. “It’s kind of like a homey place; it’s not too small, it’s not too big. It’s somewhere where I feel like anyone can find their niche and it’s somewhere where I think anyone, if they’re willing to be open minded, can feel comfortable and feel safe and at home,” Fitzgerald said.