Class: 2013

Major: Business Administration

“Be Different, Leave a Trail”

“CCM played a huge role in my life and put me on a path to success.”

Young man in a wheelchair holding the book he authoredBorn with spinal muscular atrophy (SMA), a degenerative muscle and nerve disease, Chaz Hayden (Weiner) is no stranger to challenges. In fact, he seeks them out to demonstrate what is possible.

Confined to a wheelchair, he opted to attend County College of Morris (CCM) at age 15 to earn his state-endorsed high school diploma and associate degree in business administration. He wanted to be challenged academically. Then when he discovered a passion for writing after earning a bachelor’s in finance from the University of Arizona, he took on the challenge of finding and signing with the best agent in his genre – young adult fiction. He succeeded and had his debut book “The First Thing About You,” published by Candlewick Press and distributed by Penguin Random House. Along with writing, he is employed full-time as a data analyst for a New York based company and is part of a team running a nonprofit.

“I wanted this story and message to be out in the world,” he says about his book. The story is about a 15-year-old boy named Harris who has SMA and a habit of judging people based on their favorite color. By doing so, Harris weeds out those he believes are incompatible to surround himself with outgoing yellows, adventurous oranges and thrilling reds. The book is not just about living with a disability, but more about how making snap judgments disconnects us from others and a shared sense of humanity.

“Eventually, Harris learns you can’t do that to people. He realizes that he missed out on 15 years of friendship,” explains Hayden.

The message Hayden specifically wishes to share is, “Be different. Leave a trail,” a trail that encourages perseverance, understanding others and pursuing one’s passion.

“I started saying that during my time at CCM where I was a student younger than my classmates and in a wheelchair,” he shares. “I wanted to leave a trail that showed others there are alternative pathways they can take. That they can be different and leave a trail too. I’m disabled and I know I’m different, but I think everyone should be proud of themselves and the skin they’re in.”

His book was named one of People magazine's Must-Reads and has earned rave reviews. The review from Booklist noted, “Debut author Hayden, who, like Harris, has SMA, writes with humor and compassion that instructs without lecturing.”

“CCM played a huge role in my life and put me on a path to success,” says Hayden. “I truly wouldn't be where I am today without the support I received there. The faculty and staff gave me all the tools I needed to be challenged academically and succeed. My experiences there also taught me self-discipline. It really prepared me to move to the next level.”

Now that his first book has been published, he plans to continue writing and assist with the development of the nonprofit Ballers & Bookworms, which provides free academic and athletic support to youth from underserved communities. He also encourages others to follow him on Instagram and Twitter @TheChazHayden and to message him. “Message me about your favorite food, music or book. I like connecting with people,” he says.