Living the dream

'Insisting that the bar be set extremely high rather than allowing it to be lowered due to my disability'
Photograph by Adam Küykendall

Living the dream

'Insisting that the bar be set extremely high rather than allowing it to be lowered due to my disability'

Editor’s note: The following is an excerpt from Jessica Hayden’s college scholarship essay.

When I was 18 months of age, my family’s world and dreams, as they knew them, came crashing down. I was diagnosed with profound deafness and my parents were told I would never hear or speak. Eighteen years later, those long-lost family dreams are becoming a reality and, more importantly, I am realizing a personal aspiration of obtaining a college education.

I have spent a lifetime successfully overcoming the obstacles of a substantial disability. I have attained the highest academic readiness possible in preparation for college. I have challenged myself throughout high school to place myself in good academic standing for the consideration of merit-based scholarships.

Throughout my life, I have worked tirelessly to overcome the daily obstacles and limitations associated with my deafness. At an early age, I received a cochlear implant for each ear. Through many years of speech therapy, I learned to listen and speak, becoming one of the most successful cochlear implant recipients in the United States.

Although I can hear and speak with the use of a cochlear implant, there are real limitations and impediments to my hearing. For example, my hearing peers are able to listen subconsciously without effort. This allows them to fully concentrate on processing the subject matter of the conversation. In contrast, I must consciously dedicate my complete concentration when listening to simply understand each word. I then must expend additional effort to later process what I believe I have heard. By the end of each school day I am exhausted simply from the task of listening.

Although the list of limitations and obstacles associated with my deafness is lengthy and can be overwhelming at times, I have refused to let myself, or anyone else, lower the expectations and aspirations I have set for myself. Through great determination and effort, I have surpassed many of these expectations and aspirations. These achievements were realized because I insisted that the bar be set extremely high rather than allowing it to be lowered due to my disability.

This practice of setting the bar extremely high for myself continued throughout my high school years. I have attained and received the highest academic readiness and recognition possible in preparation for undergraduate/graduate STEM studies at the University of Maine. I plan on obtaining a Ph.D. in microbiology/molecular biology.

As a senior at Orono High School, I have completed the most strenuous and prestigious academic program known as “Graduation with Distinction” while maintaining a 4.0 GPA, unweighted. I have received the highest of honors, known as High Honors at my school, for every quarter throughout my four years of study. My class load has consisted of honors and advanced placement classes such as AP Calculus, AP Biology, AP Statistics, and AP Literature, to list a few. I have been inducted into the National Honor Society and the Spanish National Honor Society.

I have also worked throughout each of my high school summers as a scientific intern in two nationally funded science research programs. For my first summer, I was selected to participate in the SMART (Stormwater Management Research Team) internship program, funded by the National Science Foundation. This internship provided me the opportunity to make a difference in my local community’s environment by becoming involved in water quality monitoring and management. For my past two summers, I have been selected and participated in the coveted Maine EPSCoR High School Internship Program at the University of Maine. This program is a paid, full-time, on-campus, scientific internship, also funded by the National Science Foundation. I participated daily in cutting-edge national research at the University of Maine, working side by side with faculty, postdoctoral scientists and graduate students.

Throughout my life, I have endeavored to overcome the many challenges associated with my deafness. Through great focus and determination, I have attained achievements many said were not attainable. I have achieved the highest academic success among my hearing peers and I have been successful in my ongoing pursuit to supplement the payment of my college education. At 18 months of age, my family’s world and dreams came crashing down with the diagnosis of my deafness. Eighteen years later, I am living the dream.

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