Learned much more
Over two years ago, I graduated from high school. The late nights and hours of studying had finally paid off. I learned numerous things from how to do the quadratic equation, to how to construct a well thought out essay. However, I did not only gain knowledge about math or English; I learned much more. I learned that no one is perfect in this world. I learned to love who I am regardless of my disability and not be ashamed of myself. I realized that it is okay to be different; that is what makes us unique. Unfortunately, it took time for me to recognize it.
Ever since I was three years old, my mom knew that I had potential, and she signed me up to attend a regular preschool. And even though people questioned her and disagreed that I was adequate to attend a regular preschool, my mom was determined to show the world what I was capable of. Throughout my education years, I attended regular classes, which meant that I was the only one who had Cerebral Palsy and used a wheelchair for transportation. I interacted with children who were able bodies and did not face any physical challenges. But my classmates did not see me differently. They incorporated me in group activities despite my physical disability. When I entered elementary school, kids started to wonder why I was in a wheelchair. Some thought that I had an accident that caused me to be a full-time wheelchair user. Their curiosity pushed them to ask me why I was unable to walk. I responded to them with the truth that when I was born, I could not breathe, and it caused damage to my brain. I explained the same way as mom explained it to me; the light bulbs in my brain were broken and could not lit up to control the movements of my arms and legs: therefore, I was not capable of walking. They did not quite fully understand it, but they did seem to get the gist of it. After that, my friends started to see me as a person who had superpowers, and I felt like I was a superhero in their eyes. A superhero because they wanted to be around me, and they thought that I was cool. My classmates were mind blown with the concept of driving a wheelchair with only a joystick and operating a computer with my eyes. My friends and classmates were fascinated. Sadly, their fascination slowly disappeared as the years went by.
When I first wheeled into high school, 9th grade, it was difficult because I needed to adapt to a new reality. Everything had changed; from teachers to the quantity of homework, to eating lunch alone. Several of my friends and classmates had evolved into individuals who only could see the exterior of a person and could not see other people’s inner beauty, their intelligence, or their limitless potential. I realized that most of the students changed their mentality, and they were more interested in what they have, and who they hang with. In other words, their social life was most important, which means to have more likes and more followers on social media.
Being around with people who did not see me as another classmate and did not comprehend how I learned was hard. Hard because I was so much more than just the girl in a wheelchair, I was a student exactly like them, I was just as intelligent as them, but most of all, I was a human being just like them. Coping with this feeling was extremely tough. However, I managed to suppress it and make it vanish so it would not haunt me. No one knew how I felt, except my helper, of course. She was the only person who was there and the one I could talk to about how I felt. She had witnessed the stares, the exclusion, and the neglect of some students. Don’t get me wrong; many students were lovely people, willing to work and interact with me. Yet, there were more of those people who excluded me and did not think that I was able to do the work.
People do not know what the definition of a friend is. Numerous times teachers and students claimed that I was “Ms. Popular” and had tons of friends because everybody knew me. I repeatedly shook my head, disagreeing with their claim. Yes, everyone knew me, but I felt that it was not because they thought I was cool, they knew who I was because I was the only girl in the wheelchair who attended regular classes. It is vastly different between knowing a lot of people to have actual friends. And yes, I had classmates that I considered my “friends,” and I thank them for seeing past my disability. However, for me, a friend is a person who is there for you and always has your back. A friend is someone who cares about you despite their disabilities or abilities. That person who texts you worried because she/he did not see you at school. I dreamt of having that person.
The lack of friends, the exclusion, and the stares had gradually possessed me and affected me without even noticing. I was starting to feel uncomfortable in the classrooms, and I was afraid of making any noise. My mind was attacking me to the point where I thought I did not belong. I isolated myself from my classmates, not going to school games, not going to homecoming, not being a part of extracurricular activities (only one or two), and not going out. I was struggling to feel that I belonged at that high school and feel like I was no different from the people that surrounded me. It took time to embrace that and realize it.
Leaving 10th grade and going on to 11th grade, junior year, I found myself in a time where my feeling of not belonging and embarrassment had slowly faded away. I had realized that isolating myself would not help to overcome this feeling of being an outcast. Therefore, I change my mentality, and I became less focused on the stares, the exclusions, or why I did not have a lot of friends. I completely ignored the things that were haunting me since I entered freshman year, and I put myself first. In the last years of high school, I did not care what people thought about me. The exclusions and the stares did not bother me as much anymore. I knew that I was capable of doing anything like my peers, regardless of my disability. My self-esteem increased to the point where I was a part of multiple clubs and organizations, such as, spirit club, fashion club, Spanish club, National Honor Society, to name a few. I attended social reunions, and I was going to school games to cheer on my classmates. My change of mentality forced me to go out of my comfort zone, and I believe that people were aware of it. And yes, I continued to be the focal point for students to stare at and to exclude; nevertheless, I adapted to the stares and the exclusions as my normality. I have realized that people will remain to shift their attention to me, regardless if I make noise or not. My disability will always be the central point that people stare at.
Surprisingly, senior year I had the honor to be named “Homecoming Queen 2017! To this day, I am confounded and astonished that my former classmates would nominate me and voted for my victory in becoming their homecoming queen. I hope that my former classmates acknowledged that a person who has a physical impairment can do anything as an able body can do. I proudly graduated from high school with honors accompanied by a 6.2 GPA. Multiple times I had to work double as hard as my peers to receive the highest grades possible, but it was worth it.
By sharing my story, I want to let people who have disabilities know that our physical impairment does not define us; we are much more than our disability. We are human beings, and we don’t need to satisfy everyone. We, human beings, are all different in every aspect, that is what makes us one of a kind. I advise not to pay attention to the outside people who don’t know anything about you. There will be people who underestimate your intelligence and capabilities. Just know that you can demonstrate you are competent of doing anything that you set your mind to, despite your disability. For all who are or going to high school, do not be ashamed of your disability, and do not care what people think. Just remember that you are one of a kind, and anything is possible.