by Samantha Scott '18
Today, I am going to talk about seeing the good in difficult challenges we face, as well as the impact of kindness.
The thing that I struggle with, which should come as no surprise to anyone who knows me well, is speed. Even since birth, I’ve been a little slow. I was born eleven days past my mother’s original due date on June 21st, the same day as the summer solstice, which ironically, makes my birthday the longest day of the year. I like to think of this as foreshadowing.
At school, I’m almost always the last one to hand in a test or quiz, and usually the last one to pack up my things and leave the classroom. At night, I spend hours doing homework and studying simply to keep up with the other kids in my classes because I know it will take me almost twice as long to get everything done on time. I was this same way during my elementary and middle school years, but the gap in speed wasn’t as noticeable because of the easier workload.
Once I began my freshman year at Peddie, the work became more challenging, and I struggled to keep up. Later in the fall of that year, I was diagnosed with auditory processing disorder, a condition that makes it unusually difficult to take in information verbally. Even though there’s nothing wrong with my hearing, I have trouble correctly registering what people are saying and remembering what I hear, which causes me to read and work slowly. With the help of Peddie’s academic support staff, as well as the extra time I now allot for assessments, my workload has become more manageable. But even still, speed is something I struggle with every day. And in a world where everything revolves around time, I have found myself in a constant battle against the clock.
We as a society associate everything with speed: success, money, intelligence, greatness. The SAT and ACT test our ability to read passages and solve problems as quickly as we can, in the short amount of time given. These are speed tests, but on our college application, the score we receive is viewed as a measure of our intelligence. Game shows such as Jeopardy, Wheel of Fortune and Family Feud are all different, but the commonality between the three shows is that they are games of speed, with money being the incentive to win. In sports, it is usually the fastest athletes that are regarded as the best on the team and in return, receive the most attention and money.
But most of all, we value speed so greatly because we value our lives. And life, as we know, is short. As they say:
Time is of the essence.
The early bird gets the worm.
These and other similar sayings we've heard throughout our lives push us to make the most out of the time that we have on this earth. To many, this means trying to accomplish as much as possible, not only for our own self-satisfaction, but so that other people will remember us by our success.
With this mindset, our time is often structured to keep us busy and focused, so that we are continuously reaching for our goals and chasing our dreams. And Peddie is no exception. We wake up early to get to school for our 8:00 AM class, struggle to get the athletic center at 3:30 PM on the dot to grind at PA, practice or rehearsal, to then stay up until ungodly hours to finish work due the following day. This rigorous schedule makes it difficult for us all to accomplish everything we want to do. Throughout my years here, I have particularly struggled with managing my time around that schedule.
But my even greater challenge has been overcoming the times where I have found myself lacking confidence in my ability and strength, out of frustration at being slower. Especially when I was an underclassman, I associated my speed with my intelligence, and questioned whether I was smart enough to be at this school. I wanted to be remembered as someone great, and I thought this was only possible by having many achievements. But through the people I’ve met because of my learning disability, I have come to realize that this is not the case. The way we are remembered has less to do with what we accomplish, and everything to do with our character, and how we make others feel about themselves.
As I mentioned earlier, throughout my time here, I have received a lot help from Peddie’s academic support staff. For those who don’t know, their building is attached to the health center, in between the track and science center. Up until her retirement last spring, working at the main desk was the secretary, Mrs. Baciuska. Anyone who had the good fortune of knowing her would probably agree with me when I say that she is one of the nicest people you could ever meet. Every time I walked into academic support, she would greet me with a smile and ask how my day was going, or how I was doing. Then, she would offer some candy from one of the big baskets of snacks she always had filled for the students. She would then proceed to ask me if she get me water, or make me tea.
Her kindness was overwhelming, and it always amazed me how she was able to be so hospitable and kind every time I saw her. It was a privilege getting to know her from my freshman to junior year, especially hearing about her plans for retirement, and the weddings of both her children who got married last year. What I’ve come to realize in her absence this year is that, while I don’t remember specifically what Mrs. Baciuska said to me, and all the things that she did, I do remember how she made me feel. I’m sad I don’t get to see her this year, but I am happy she is here today, and able to hear about the significant impact that her kindness had on my life during her time here.
In addition to Mrs. Baciuska, another group of people who impacted me with their kindness were the students and faculty of Villa Maria in Stamford, Connecticut, a school that specializes in teaching children with learning disabilities in grades K-8. In the first two weeks of this past June, I went to Villa Maria for my Summer Signature Experience to help and observe the way in which children with learning disabilities and special needs are taught. My dad, who had dyslexia, went to Villa Maria himself for a few years, and he credits his teachers with his academic success in his later years of schooling. For my Dad’s sake as well as my own, I wanted to help kids who I felt were going through similar struggles to the ones that my dad and I faced. And although I went there to make an impact on their lives, I left Villa Maria with them having changed mine.
Rather than their struggles in the classroom, what stuck out to me the most about these children was their kindness towards each other. While I was there, I worked with all the different age groups, but I particularly loved working with the sixth and seventh graders. This group had more severe learning disabilities, with a majority of them functioning at 2nd and 3rd grade level work. Even though they had the most adversity to face, I felt as though this group was the most positive and willing to help one another.
Beyond my time spent with the children, my experience at Villa Maria included a whole other side to it that I didn’t anticipate would impact me so greatly. After school each day, I stayed in an empty room in the convent attached to Villa Maria with four Bernardine Franciscan Sisters: Carol Ann, Joanne Helen, Deb and Phyllis. They welcomed me with open arms and I ate every meal with them, occasionally attended daily mass and watched movies in big recliner chairs with them including, “Just Go With It” with Jennifer Aniston and Adam Sandler, which I can promise you, is a movie I never imagined myself watching with four elderly nuns. I enjoyed living with them for two weeks, hearing their stories as nuns and special ed teachers. But above all, it was nice just getting to know them as ordinary people.
I said I would talk about seeing the good in the difficult challenges we face. My challenge is my auditory processing disorder that causes me to work more slowly. But if I didn’t struggle with time, I probably would have never met Mrs. Baciuska, or had the desire to do my Summer Sig at Villa Maria. Their kindness brought good into my life, and when I look back on my experiences with them, they made me realize that we remember people by the way they treated us, not by what they did.
Even if you can’t relate to my personal struggle with time, what I hope you can take away from my story is the power that kindness can have. We get so caught up in test scores, titles, achievements, colleges we attend and just wanting to be remembered as someone great. While I think working hard and striving for success is very important, how we treat others is just as, or maybe even more, important because people aren’t going to remember everything you said and did, but I can guarantee you, they are going to remember the way you made them feel.
To conclude my speech, I want to thank a few people who have helped me during my time here. Starting with my family, who are sitting in the back. Thank you for being here today and for always believing in me. Thank you to all my teachers, who have been so understanding and patient with me. I’d especially like to thank Mrs. Corica, Dr. Jimenez and my advisors, Ms. Sherman and Mr. Bennett, for all their wisdom and guidance.
And lastly, thank you to all the students here who have gone out of their way to help me. In particular, I’d like to thank Bea Casey who, when I was struggling sophomore year to fulfill my language requirement, would tutor me in French. Without her help, I definitely would not have done as well. Brooke Dennison, my amazing friend and roommate from junior year, would, without any mention of it, wear an eye mask to sleep and keep all the lights on in the room when I needed to stay up later to work, and she has always been so supportive of me academically. And lastly, I’d like to thank Zak Steinhauser and my best friend, Mia Salas, who have acted as personal math tutors for me. Whenever I ask them for their help, I can always count on them to be there for me.
These four students all take difficult classes and have many after school commitments. But even with their busy schedules, they still made time to help me. So when I leave here in May, I’ll remember how smart and talented they all are, but most of all, I’ll remember their generosity and how kind they were to me. Especially when they didn’t have to be.
Thank you, Peddie, and Ala Viva.