Katya Raskin

After switching from pediatrician to pediatrician, to psychologists and then to neurologists, I was diagnosed with Tourette’s Syndrome in December of 2010. Through the years, I have experienced head shaking so severe that I had a constant headache, skips in my step that made me fall sometimes, and gasps for air that sometimes left me lightheaded. I would get (and still get) stares in movie theaters, subways, restaurants, school — you name it. I felt like I was a freak and that no one would want to be my friend because I made weird movements. However, one particular experience in fifth grade changed the way I viewed myself and my peers.

My fifth grade teacher gave a presentation to my class about the nature of TS so that I could feel comfortable at school and eliminate the stress of trying to hide my tics. My peers thought the condition was cool, and they were all eager to ask me questions. When my teacher was absent one day and we had a substitute, I was yelled at for “disrupting the class,” and was given detention. My classmates became indignant and stood up for me, trying to explain that I couldn’t control my tics, but the substitute wouldn’t accept their explanation. As a result, some asked the substitute if they could go to the bathroom as an excuse to actually go to the principal and explain the situation. That was the moment I realized that educating children and adults about TS has a resounding impact.

In my sophomore year of high school, I trained in Washington D.C to become a Youth Ambassador for TS, and when I was there, I was surrounded by people who were all affected by the syndrome. I had never been accepted into a group that was so understanding and supportive before, and I made a personal mission to help the kids with Tourette’s in my area feel accepted in the same way I did at the training. I paired up with a buddy — a girl with TS who was recently diagnosed and had a galaxy of questions with abstract answers — and started going to schools to make presentations about the condition. I also organized four fundraisers to raise money for the Tourette Association of America, directing the money towards research for cure. Any opportunity I saw to educate people, I took it.

I believe I deserve this scholarship because I have worked insanely hard in high school. I took on a full IB (International Baccalaureate) course-load, and balanced it with swimming, dancing, and experimenting with new hobbies. I would love to go to Georgetown University (my dream school) and major in Environmental Studies, but the cost of attending is formidable. This scholarship will help me pay for an education there and take advantage of the amazing opportunities the school will offer me.