I was lucky enough to be able to attend an awards ceremony today in Eisenhower auditorium honoring both undergraduate and graduate students for their academic accomplishments. One of the award recipients received the Jackson Lethbridge Tolerance Award for creating and fostering a program at Penn State that helps students with disabilities continue to be able to function in the college environment, especially those with autism like himself. I was very humbled and proud to hear the vast accomplishments of this student that far surpassed anything I would be capable of. Yet another example of how a disability does not define someone, but often motivates one to work even harder and achieve more.
The whole situation had me thinking about what it would be like to attend Penn State with a disability. I struggle to maintain good grades in my classes, while juggling extracurricular activities and a social life. I try my hardest to prioritize, time manage, and give myself enough time to relax and maintain my mental and physical health. However, I am the first to admit that I fail miserably at this sometimes. I put off studying until the day before, and see the effects of that strategy when I receive my exam grade a few days later. I stay up late watching television and completing homework, and then find that I am too tired the next day to attend classes, complete homework and study, and go to the gym; I am forced to pick two of the three if I want to stay awake the whole day. I try to exercise and eat right, but sometimes that just seems like too overwhelming of a task on top of everything else I have to accomplish by the end of the semester.
I deal with those stresses and with balancing all aspects of my life, and I do not have a mental disability. Individuals with disabilities are fully capable of doing everything that typical individuals can, but without a doubt they face many more complications and difficulties. Just imagine having to study for multiple hours for an exam. Many individuals with mental disabilities have trouble focusing on day-to-day tasks such as eating a meal or having a conversation with a friend. On top of the usual teenager’s procrastination mindset that one must combat each and every hour he or she tries to study, an individual with a disability will often have many other mindsets to battle while studying.
This may seem rather simple or obvious to some. But at the end of the day, the only thing that stands in the way of typical individuals’ success is their own motivation. The majority of individuals do not have to fight battles within themselves to accomplish the most basic of academic tasks, and we should be thankful for that. Not only was it refreshing to see the smile and excitement on the student’s face who received the award at the ceremony, but it also put things into perspective for me and reminded me that the only thing standing in the way of my own success are extraneous factors that can easily be eliminated.