Imagine life without sound. No comforting voices of family or friends, no music, just silence. For the first three years of his life, Justin Osmond lived in silence until he was diagnosed with a 90-percent hearing loss.
The son of Merrill Osmond, the lead singer of The Osmonds, Justin’s hearing problems were a unique challenge for someone in a family famous for music. Doctors told him and his family that he should just stick with sign language but nevertheless, he was determined to catch up to his peers and learn to speak.
Waking up at 6 a.m. every day to practice speaking for hours with his mother, Justin worked tirelessly on his speech therapy. He even learned to play several instruments, including the violin, piano, viola and drums. Although education was always difficult for Justin and many people told his parents he would never make it to college, the struggle to overcome his speech difficulties motivated him and instilled a love of learning that would never wane.
“I love learning, and because I was behind I had to work hard to catch up,” said Justin. “I think that’s still inside of me, that drive.”
As an Eagle Scout, Justin needed a community service project and inadvertently stumbled upon a passion that would guide his career from that point on. He was dismayed to find out that a friend who also had a hearing disability didn’t have enough money to purchase a set of hearing aids. Justin decided that his friend’s hearing aids would be his project. He went door to door and raised money, eventually helping his friend purchase a new set of hearing aids and experience a world of sound.
“I’ll never forget the day when he came into the doctor’s office and they gave him a new set of hearing aids. The change in his life brought a change to mine. I said, ‘That’s what I want to do. I want to help people hear,’” said Justin.
Justin put that passion into action working with the Starkey Hearing Foundation, traveling to countries all over the world to provide hearing aids to deaf and hearing-impaired children. Justin also founded the Olive Osmond Perpetual Hearing Fund, which he founded in honor of his grandmother.
At the urging of his brother, Shane Osmond, who had decided to attend WGU, Justin enrolled for the MBA program at WGU. Justin wanted to further his own education in order to help even more children with hearing disabilities. He hoped an MBA would give him greater skills in subjects such as marketing and public relations to bolster his nonprofit work.
“With my MBA, I wanted to learn how I could capitalize and utilize my resources to help more children. How can I create a bigger outreach program to help even more children that live in underprivileged countries to provide the gift of better hearing? That was my whole purpose. I don’t want to measure my life by the days I’ve lived, but by the smiles I leave behind, or what I call ‘hearing smiles.’”
Justin’s journey to complete his MBA at WGU was not without its challenges. Because his travel schedule was so rigorous, he would complete most of his coursework studying on airplanes and in hotels in places like Africa, the Middle East, and Southeast Asia. Despite his hectic schedule and with the help of his mentor, he was able to complete his degree in two and a half years.
“Western Governors University was probably literally one of the best things that ever happened to me,” says Justin. “It’s almost like Western Governors University took me fishing. They could have caught me a fish, and fed me for one day. But they taught me how to fish and fed me and now they fed me for a whole lifetime.”
On February 12, 2011, Justin was one of the student speakers at WGU’s winter commencement ceremony in Salt Lake City and delivered a commencement speech in front of thousands of people. He is determined that his hearing disability will never hold him back from his goals.
“I may have a deafness, but that deafness doesn’t have me. Anyone may have a certain challenge: physically, emotionally, and psychologically but that doesn’t necessarily have to get in the way of getting an education. It’s never too late to get an education.”