I peer out of a shiny glass window, looking at a bushy tail flicking along the bird feeders. The beady eyed creature was exploring the wide expanse for its next meal. “Look mommy, It’s a sqwal,” I looked up to see my mother puzzled and her face in confusion. She follows my gaze to the creature that I am so fixated on. She smiles and asks me if I was looking at the squirrel. I nodded happily and she laughed. I didn't understand why she was laughing. She probably just thought the squirrel was a funny little creature.
I was eight years old and looking through that same window pane once again. Another squirrel was scurrying outside along the trees and I turned to my older sister. “Look Hannah, the sqwal is in the twee,” I looked up to see the same expression that was engraved in my mind. A look of pure confusion. I didn’t know my words were “weird,” or that there was something “strange,” about them; however, puzzled faces followed me constantly.
The faces even followed me into school. A spew of words dribbled out of my mouth and my teacher just looked at me. Their face was hard in concentration until they deciphered my string of words. After a million puzzled faces in school, I was directed to a “special” class during a portion of my english class. I would speak and sound out syllables for hours upon hours. “Ah, eh, ee,oh, oo. Ah, eh, ee, oh, oo. Ah, eh, ee, oh, oo,” I repeated over and over like a broken record.
It wasn't easy talking to other kids once I realized that I had a problem. I lost all my confidence when I discovered that I had an issue, so I avoided conversations at all costs. To me, at the age of eight, my speech impediment was a complete embarrassment.
Despite what I had believed, my impediment was vital in pushing me forward. I had been encouraged to compete in public speaking competitions at the age of five years old to combat my shyness, long before my speech impediment was declared an issue. I never won a single competition when I had my impediment. At that time, standing at a podium was a torture tactic that my parents wanted to force on me. I would walk up and stumble over my words with strings of “umms,” and long awkward pauses. It felt like the whole world was watching me speak.
In 2015, I graduated from my special class for my impediment. That same year, I walked up to a looming podium and clearly said “Good afternoon, my name is Shannon O’Hara. I am thirteen years old and an eight year member of the Houston Cardinals 4-H Club,” I felt proud of my improvements. Little did I know, I would also make it to the state competition and place first. After nine total years of battling my speech impediment, I had a way to see my progress. Today, I am involved in the performing arts, choir, an advanced women’s choir, and have continued competing in my public speaking competitions. I never want to stop talking to people like I did during my impediment. I want to learn, grow, and share my experience to those who think they can’t overcome a situation. I want to share my growth and continue to improve through a college major of communications. If a shy five year old with a speech impediment can find the courage to talk in front of a crowd of people, any person can accomplish anything.
Starting my second year of college brought different emotions than last year when I had no idea what to expect, now I knew where to go, I had made friends, joined activities and live off campus in a house with five other people. I am independently taking care of myself with a lot more freedom and with that a lot more responsibility.
Having finished my entry level courses, I have now starting taking the higher level courses in my major Accounting. These courses are challenging but exciting because it will allow me to have the skills to move forward in my career.
One of my biggest challenges this year came from a different front, I was asked by alumni of Alpha Chi Rho to take a leadership position to bring back a fraternity to West Chester’s campus. It had been inactive since 2010. There were a few reasons that I agreed, it will allow me to gain leadership skills, it increased my network professionally and I believe in the mission of the fraternity which centers on community service and honor. There is also a significant amount of documentation and procedure that are required, this will help prepare for future business activities.
During the summer of 2019, I participated in playing American Legion baseball for the last time and continued to umpire for my local little leagues. I continued to umpire during fall baseball season and then worked part time at a local Hair salon. Additionally, I volunteered at charities such as Gift of Life Family Donor House and Chester County Shine and Habitat for Humanity because this is still important and fulfilling for me.
As I start the second semester, we are actively increasing the membership of the fraternity. I will continue to work part time at a Hair Salon where I reception until baseball season starts so that I can umpire for the summer. I greatly appreciate the support of the foundation in assisting me in pursuing my college education.
I still remember walking into her classroom for the first time. The 32 desks arranged into 8 groups of 4. The gargantuan bookshelf that must've had at least 500 books. The 3 computers lined up on the right side of the classroom. What caught my eye was the big, golden, fabric chair. For me, it was just another school year. It was just another year to play kickball and tag during recess. It was just another year of goofing off in the classroom with my friends as we competed to make the best paper airplanes. Normally, people have life-changing moments much later than third grade, but I'm glad I got an early start.
My third grade teacher, Mrs. Burrows, was the key to changing me from a goofball into a scholar. On the first day, she instructed the class to sign up for a website called First In Math. The website organized math lessons into minigames and would award stickers as the student completed specific lessons. Mrs. Burrows, attempting to engage my competitive side, told me that I could sit in her fabric chair if I could muster up 500 stickers by the end of the week. Usually, she reserved the chair for special occasions like birthdays. I really wanted the chair and nothing was going to stop me... not even math. The lessons on the site were never hard, in fact, they were enjoyable. After working vigorously all week, I checked on my sticker count and gawked at the 527 stickers I had achieved. The next day, I raced into the classroom to show Mrs. Burrows my certificate which proved that I acquired 500 stickers. I leaped on the fabric chair and it was like sitting on a bed made of marshmallows. So why am I telling you all of this? What does a big marshmallow chair have to do with my life? Well... in that class period, for the first time in my life, I understood what she was teaching. We were learning how to divide fractions, and I raised my hand and told Mrs. Burrows that you just had to flip the numerator and denominator of the second fraction, then multiply both of the fractions together. She smiled at me and said, "That is the difference between ordinary and extraordinary, Maximus, all it takes is a little extra." I couldn't believe it. I will never forget the feeling of that day. I wanted to be the smartest in the room.
After that day, I spent 3 hours on First In Math almost every day. Before I knew it, I was scoring 100% on math tests consistently. Mrs. Burrows approached me and said, "Why stop at one subject?" She told me to find a "chapter book" in the library to read. I found a passion for reading Greek mythology, specifically the Percy Jackson series. I must have read The Lightning Thief over ten times and I still feel like reading it again. Instead of going home and watching TV, I would make a point to read at least a chapter per night.
After putting a little extra into every subject, I had jumped from below average to above average (check my DCAS scores for proof). The most important thing that I learned... learning is something I love. I go to school every day, not because I'm required, but because I crave knowledge. I want to know everything about anything. That probably sounds cliche, but I honestly and truly believe that 100% on a test establishes nothing if I don't understand the material. It is a matter of bettering my mind for myself and nobody else. Ordinary people stop when it's enough to pass, extraordinary people ... do a little extra.
This year, I took on the challenge of completing my first semester of college. I am enrolled at the University of Delaware as a Cognitive Science major with the Speech-Language Pathology concentration and Disabilities Studies and Psychology minors. My significant accomplishment this year was making Dean's list for the Fall 2019 semester and earning a 3.80 GPA. My college experience has taught me how to effectively manage time, prioritize my education, and find a healthy balance in life, to maintain a positive mindset. An additional accomplishment of this year was placing 3rd at the International Leadership Conference, for HOSA, in the Healthy Lifestyle competition. This project consisted of inspecting how my sleep schedule, along with other aspects of my life, could be altered to decrease anxiety and depression symptoms. This progress was illustrated in a binder that I presented to a panel of judges at the state and international level. Next year, I plan on continuing with the same major and minors. My career goal is to become a Speech-Language Pathologist in pediatrics or geriatrics. Being able to communicate is what makes us human, without this skill there becomes a disconnect and isolated feeling. In this career field, I will be able to recreate that connection and help others relearn, or learn for the first time how to properly speak, swallow, and express their thoughts through words or signs. I aspire to be able to make an impactful difference in the lives of others. In order for this goal to be possible, I need to maintain above a 3.6 GPA to be accepted into a graduate school where I can earn my Master's degree and become ASHA certified. On top of that, I desire to establish a well-rounded resume by joining more extracurricular activities, volunteer organizations, and internships.
I have accrued employment experience with a few different companies. In the beginning of January, I started at the University of Delaware's STAR Campus. My responsibilities here include completing projects for the Dean of College of Health Sciences, assisting patients with their appointments and directions, and delivering mail and packages. In February 2018, I started as a Treat Team member at Rita's Italian Ice. Through experience and proving my work ethic and abilities, my boss promoted me to a Shift Leader position. My duties included creating a healthy and productive work environment, maintaining excellent customer service, managing the production of business and orders, and tracking the financials and counting the registers. Through this job, I was able to accrue management experience. In March 2018, I became a certified soccer referee through the Delaware Soccer Referees Association. Through experience and developing a professional relationship with my boss, I was promoted to Senior Official. In this role, I educated players on the laws of the game, directed tournaments, and instructed new officials.