Everyone will experience adversity at some point in their life. How we choose to handle those adversities is what sets everyone apart. From the day I was born, I encountered challenges. I was born with a cleft lip and palate. Growing up with facial differences, hearing difficulties, and speech issues was challenging, but it has formed me into the person I am today. Throughout school, I missed out on many summers, holidays, spring breaks, and sporting events because of surgeries and doctor visits. I’ve faced questions, stares, and felt left out at times.

Physical differences are the easiest to recognize and can be the hardest on someone’s self-esteem. One of my core memories from school was when a little girl asked me what happened to my face. I explained to her and began to brace myself waiting to hear hurtful things. Then she responded with ‘Wow, you’re so cool and brave! You’re like a hero.’ This memory still makes me smile today. It was one of the first times when talking about my cleft I felt brave, courageous and strong.

My cleft affects my ears and the pressure in my eardrums. Having difficulties with your hearing can also affect your equilibrium and balance. Gymnastics has been a passion of mine and this made it a little more challenging. I would lose skills and have to start the learning process over. This was where persistence, hard work and dedication became a key in my life. People do not always see the extra work and time you may have to put in but the reward always seems a little sweeter.

Speech was also a struggle. I was a little more reserved when speaking and being In front of large groups. I made it my goal to participate in these activities. I am a member of the varsity cheerleading team and involved in serval services clubs in school. I have had the opportunity to be a member of the National Charity League working with Prodisee Pantry, The Ronald McDonald House, local veterans homes and retirement centers and the Rotary youth group. Having the courage to conquer your fears is key to future success.

I have used my experiences as an opportunity to educate instead of getting defensive, show compassion to others with differences, to be inclusive rather than exclusive and to love and help others in need. The world can be a difficult place growing up and one person can make a significant impact when they lead by example. It may be a little harder or take a little longer for some people but during the journey when we pay attention, there are always life lessons and learning opportunities. Adversities are unavoidable but what you do about them is your decision. I chose to embrace differences, learn from mistakes and never give up on my dreams. I want to pursue a degree in the medical field and have an opportunity to help other children who may face challenges and adversities.

My educational interests and life experiences have steered me towards studying in the field of psychology, biochemistry or neuroscience. My aspirations have always included helping others and making a memorable impact by being a counselor, therapist, psychologist or a nurse. I have spent the majority of my life interacting with people in these fields and have seen the importance they have in the lives of others.

I have been active in community service throughout high school. My volunteer experience in the community has included putting together meals with the Prodisee Pantry organization, volunteering at the Ronald McDonald house, visiting local veterans homes and retirement centers, working with the Rotary Youth program and helping the homeless at the Waterfront Mission. At school I am a member of the service club, fellow Christian Athletes program and work with youth cheerleading camps. Working with the community especially with these organizations have been extremely rewarding.

These are the things that have shaped my interests and will help me be successful in college and in my future career. I will continue to be one of the many faces of the cleft community and continue my journey to make an impact, build people’s self-esteem, encourage them to face their fears and help all people recognize their purpose. The way I will accomplish this is by becoming a counselor, therapist, psychologist or nurse while continuing to make an impact through community service.” 

— Clara

Congratulations to Clara! As the General recipient of the Randall LaRossa College Scholarship, she will receive $5,000 toward her education. Learn more about ACPA’s college scholarships. Donate to the Randall LaRossa College Scholarship fund and make a difference for students like Clara.