Alumni Success Stories

My school buzzed with excitement. Today was assembly day! We left our classrooms and packed into the small gymnasium. The teachers settled us onto the floor as we waited for the program to begin. After the speaker finished her presentation, it was time for questions. There was a sea of hands fluttering in the air. I outstretched my hand. I wanted to ask a question too. I desperately wanted to be like the other kids. I was selected. All eyes were on me. My mind frantically tried to construct a question. I felt as if the question was buried in the depths of my mind but the words wouldn’t come out of my mouth. Finally, I uttered something but there was dead silence. What came out of my mouth was neither relevant nor pertinent. Cold, unblinking eyes pierced in my direction. Mercifully, a teacher came to my rescue. She concocted a question on my behalf and saved me from humiliation.

As a child, no one likes being different. Yet my early years were filled with differences. I didn’t talk or act like the other kids. I had trouble verbally expressing myself and trouble understanding when others spoke to me. I longed to have friends, but I didn’t know how to make them. Instead I adopted my brother’s friends as my own.

The first time I realized that I was truly different was in kindergarten. I went to a different school than my brother. The classrooms were small. There were only eight students in a class. We did not have a fancy cafeteria, large gymnasium or high-tech library like the public school. We did not have a dedicated kindergarten teacher nor did we have assigned grades. Although I was never told why I went to The Hillside School, I just accepted it as part of my reality, just as I had accepted going to speech therapy every week since the age of two.

But, somehow, I liked Hillside. It was a place filled with supportive teachers (after all, it was where my teacher saved me from embarrassment), hands-on learning and fun classroom activities. It was a place where bullying was NOT tolerated. It was a place where achievements were celebrated and obstacles were viewed as new opportunities to conquer.

Although doctors used the terms receptive and expressive language disorder and CAPD to define me, labels did not confine or define the students at Hillside. Everyone was unique. We were challenged to find ways to unlock our true potential. I spent many long hours inside and outside of school practicing techniques to improve my auditory and verbal challenges. I spent countless sessions in speech therapy and occupational therapy. I spent numerous nights reading, rephrasing and summarizing text. Over time, I improved significantly. I discovered ways to capitalize on my exceptional visual abilities to compensate for the auditory deficit. After four years, I transitioned seamlessly into the public school. Although Hillside prepared me well, I continued to challenge myself and build upon on my newly acquired skills by joining my school band and summer drama camp.

As I’ve grown and matured, I’ve come to realize that being “different” in my younger years has proven to be one of my biggest advantages. I learned many valuable skills such as self-awareness, adaptability, self-advocacy, hard work and perseverance. Most importantly, I learned the importance of encouragement, sensitivity and kindness toward others.

Life is a journey. Every day there is an opportunity to learn, to grow and to succeed. There will always be challenges, but knowing how to face and react to these challenges is the most important. I have overcome adversity and it’s the attributes I’ve learned along the way that make me feel empowered and well-equipped to handle the challenges now and those that the future may hold.

–Brendan Conway College Essay
Lehigh University Class of 2023