The following is an excerpt from an essay on leadership written by a student in the Johnson Scholars Program, a college readiness program that is a partnership between the School District of Palm Beach County, Take Stock in Children Palm Beach County and the Johnson Scholarship Foundation. Her essay offers insights into the struggles many high school students are facing today. We will feature other student authors in the coming weeks.
Throughout my life, I have learned that being a leader means to be humble and let yourself be the staircase in which you lead others to walk on to succeed. The setbacks that I had in my life did not stop me from reaching the point where I am and thus becoming the stepping-stone for my family and others.
When I was 3 years old, my father found me unable to breathe and panicked knowing my life was on the line. My parents rushed me to the hospital late that night. The medical team checked my lungs and airway but there was no blockage, leaving the doctors with no explanation. My time was running thin as I became increasingly desperate for air. My parents were struggling with answers and grew impatient seeing their daughter helpless. Finally, a doctor arrived to the hospital and immediately he knew the cause and rushed me to the operating room.
He operated on the back of my neck, trying his best to save me. After almost 20 hours in surgery, I was finally reunited with my parents. I was awake by the time I was coming out, and I saw the tear-filled eyes of my father and mother. The last thing I remember before I went into the ICU was whispering to my father saying, “Don’t cry, Papi, everything will be okay.” The next day, I was waking up when the doctor came by my room to examine me to see if there is any visible neurological damage. As the doctor told me to stretch and move my fingers, we all noticed that I was having motor difficulties. He told to move my legs. Horror hit as I could not move them. My parents and I were devastated by the news that there were high chances that I may not be able to walk again.
Though this hit me hard, a voice inside me told me not to accept this diagnosis. Instead of accepting the wheelchair, I crawled on the floor every day, hoping that little by little, I would gain enough strength to stand on my own. After much time and perseverance, I was beginning to stand on my own and take small steps. With this new hope, I was placed in physical and occupational therapy. It took many months until I was completely rehabilitated. As I grew older, I would need constant check-ups from my doctor, not only because of my operation but also because of my weak immune system. I felt helpless and like a burden.
During my elementary school experience, I was insecure and self-reserved due to all the health issues I was going through. It became worse as I was bullied due to the scar of the operation and how my fingers worked. My classmates would be cruel and would often exclude me from group activities, leaving me feeling alone and unwanted. I also endured challenges at home, and I had to put on a brave face for my younger brothers in these situations. I am the oldest and so I learned I had to be the strong one within the family.
The bullying did not stop until the seventh grade, where I found people who accepted me for who I am. As a result, I started to gain more confidence in myself and my abilities. Entering high school, I was excited and enthusiastic for what this new chapter in my life would bring me. Turns out, my hardships became essential in my life for those same hardships would help me later on. For example, I became more active in my church. I found a channel to reach out to more people similar to me and have a strong support system.
My career goal is to be an occupational therapist. I want to be the inspiration for the children to continue working hard with their therapy and get right back up and continue to live their lives as normal as possible.
This aspiration stems from the doctors and occupational therapists that have done for this for me when I was in need. My hardships have better prepared me to be a leader not only throughout college, but my professional life to follow.
Joselynne Zurita attends Lake Worth Community High School in Lake Worth, Florida. She is in the dual enrollment program, and upon graduation from high school she plans to earn a bachelor’s degree in health sciences at a state university and later pursue a master’s degree in occupational therapy.