When a magician takes the stage, every eye in the room is on him. The captivated audience watches closely—trying to spot how he saws his assistant in half, how he escapes his restraints just in the nick of time, and how he can make anything disappear and then reappear a moment later. The audience gasps with each reveal before sharing in a collective curiosity, “How on earth did he do that?”
Since unenrolling from The University of Alabama in the 1980s to pursue a career as a professional magician, Curt Anderson has performed his magic act in 42 states all around the country. A few years ago, Curt resumed his studies when he became a full-time caregiver to his epileptic son, Ty. Because of Ty’s need for constant care and supervision, he attended every single class with Curt. On Friday, April 30—decades after initially enrolling—Curt will graduate with a degree in communication studies. Wondering how on earth he did it? Luckily for you, this is one magician who does reveal his secrets.
“Ty loves being on campus and being around people,” said Curt. “I got him a backpack and some workbooks he could do, and then he would just watch and listen to people during classroom presentations. He felt like he was going to a half a dozen shows every week. He loved it.”
While the severity of epilepsy and its triggers can vary from person to person, generally epilepsy is a neurological condition that affects the body’s nervous system, causing disturbances in the electrical activity of the brain (seizures). One in 26 people in the United States have been diagnosed with epilepsy (3.4 million) and approximately 60% of those diagnosed do not know the cause.
Ty Anderson has one of the more severe and rare forms of epileptic seizures, known as Tonic-Clonic (Grand Mal) seizures. The seizures affect his entire body for 30 seconds to three minutes, which is followed by a recovery stage (postictal), where he is so worn out that he’s almost unconscious. To date, Ty has had over 12,000 seizures, a few of which took place during class.
“At one point in his life, Ty was having 30 to 40 seizures a day,” said Curt. “Every time he has a seizure it’s difficult—and it’s never convenient—but I just decided that life had to keep going on. We found a way to deal with it.”
Despite what you may think, there is no law that requires the University to permit Ty to attend classes with his dad. For Curt, this meant he had to seek special permission from each and every course instructor and there had to be a certain understanding among his classmates. Additionally, Ty had to get a special UA ACT Card to be able to attend after-hours lectures in the library, and Curt had to request special accommodations for parking.
“It took a lot of talking to a lot of people, but eventually we got it all approved,” said Curt. “As soon as I would sign up for a class, I’d email the professor to explain the situation and work out the details. There was only one class that didn’t work out, and that was because it was so full there wasn’t a seat for Ty. So, I just took it the next semester.”
With all the challenges Curt and Ty faced, one thing that greatly encouraged him was the support he received from the C&IS community.
“I can’t think of a single negative experience, not one,” said Curt. “I’ve had students ask if Ty and I want to meet them in the Ferguson Center for lunch just to hang out. The amount of intelligence and caring and concern in the college-aged students since I’ve been here has been amazing.”
He may be finishing this act on Friday, but as the curtain falls, rest assured—this is not the final show for Curt Anderson. He has been accepted in a master’s program for communication studies at UAB, where he will specialize in deception. After that, he wants to pursue a Ph.D. to better understand how deception works and combine that with his personal experience.
“As a magician, I’ve got a different perspective. Everybody in the field of deception has an academic background; I’ve got a background in actually deceiving people,” said Curt. “There are some things magicians do to fool people that haven’t been studied in the sense of general deception, and audiences are getting more sophisticated at a faster pace than magicians are progressing the art. If I can better understand how deception is built, then I can help magicians build better deceptions.”