Rob Herman grew up thinking he was lazy. His IQ was 156 but he couldn't read, he had trouble writing and his teachers always made fun of him. He became the class clown.
He obtained his high school diploma at a private school without doing any work. He forged his transcript to get into the University of Montana but flunked out after four semesters.Herman still calls himself a clown, but he's not in class anymore. On Thursday, he and two other students became the first graduates of Landmark College, the nation's only college for dyslexics.
"This place changed my life," said Herman, a 26-year-old from Great Neck, N.Y., with a beard, a quick smile and black curly hair that falls to his shoulders. "It gave me an opportunity to get an education, to understand myself, to accomplish goals for myself.
"If I didn't come here, I don't know where I'd be - probably working a manual labor job somewhere," he said.
Dyslexia is a language disability commonly known for the reversal of letters. Dyslexics also have trouble organizing their thoughts, writing them down, remembering names, taking notes and learning languages.
It affects 10 percent of the population. There is no known cure for the disability, which has numbered Nelson Rockefeller, Thomas Edison and Hans Christian Anderson among its sufferers.
Since 1971, more than 2,000 young dyslexics have attended the Landmark School in Prides Crossing, Mass. The affiliated college opened in September 1985, in red and white brick buildings formerly occupied by the bankrupt Windham College.
The first year, 77 students enrolled in the pre-college and college programs, the latter leading to an associate's degree in general studies.
The student population has doubled. Landmark's budget is strong, it is a candidate for accreditation, and its five-year plan includes more dormitory space, a better library and a scholarship fund.
"I think things are going very well," President Jim Olivier said in an interview in his office Wednesday. "We've been successful in doing what we set out to do, which is prepare students for success in non-specialized colleges."
Landmark students have been accepted at more than 100 colleges and universities.
Olivier said although Landmark's curricula is not very different from any other general studies college, teaching is very individualized, with a student-faculty ratio of 3-1. Students are expected to learn the same subject matter as students at other schools, but they are given more time to read texts and take exams.
Herman found out about Landmark through an education consultant. The other graduates, Kevin Gott and Paul Hudson, read articles about the program.
Gott, a lanky, athletic man from Baltimore, found out he had dyslexia in high school. He thought he could cut it at St. Olaf College in Northfield, Minn., but he quit at the end of the year. He said they had the facilities to help him but he was too embarrassed to ask.
Landmark helped him stick it out in school. "I guess the biggest thing for me is increasing my self-confidence," said Gott, 26, who was honored this year with two achievement awards.
Hudson, a Canadian, also praised the school for raising his self-esteem. A former computer programmer, he plans to become an astronomer.
"I probably would have gone to some community college, some low-level school, got a bachelor's degree and taken a job with computers. And that would be it," said Hudson, 22, who as a child often dreamed of the stars while visiting a Montreal planetarium. "Instead of setting myself up for failure, now I know what I can do."
The cost at Landmark College is a prohibitive $20,500 a year for tuition, room and board, with limited financial aid from the institution - a fact that upsets the graduates.
"I hate seeing this school just be here for people whose parents can afford it," said Herman, the son of a Pennsylvania businessman, who said he'd like to start a scholarship fund.