A few months after my eighth birthday, I came to America from the Dominican Republic. It was not an easy road, the hardships were many. Shortly after arriving, I contracted meningitis and became deaf in both ears. I then had surgery and received a cochlear implant. What challenges did I face? Well, I had to learn how to hear with my implant, I had to learn how to speak, read, and write English. I had to learn how I was never going to be a normal hearing person again. Most importantly, I had to learn to dare to believe in myself, to believe I could really succeed in achieving my dreams. In fact, achieving dreams has proven to be the greatest challenge.
During my eighth grade graduation, I overheard two of my teachers having a conversation about me. One teacher asked, “What do you expect to happen to Mariella in the future?” The other teacher replied, “I bet she’ll end up flipping burgers in McDonald’s.
She never realized I had heard her that day. Her words had a great impact on my future. On the first day of my freshman year of high school I went into the bathroom, looked myself in the mirror and said, “If I ever have anything to do with McDonald’s, it will be to own McDonald’s!” I have kept my word so far and have been working hard to pursue higher education. My three most prominent recent achievements are graduating in the top five in a class of 200 students, being selected to do a three-week internship to Antarctica by the very beginning of senior year, and finally receiving a full scholarship to New York University where I am currently a sophomore doing a double major in politics and public policy.
Additionally, I have had the privilege of various leadership opportunities including being elected female captain of the Riverbank Swim Team, being elected school representative of the ILEAD Scholars Program run by Goldman Sachs and jump starting two companies, one in tutoring and another in salsa dance.
So yes, my hearing disability does present barriers to my receiving a good education but those challenges have only taught me that I have to dream hard, wish big, and chase after my goals, because no one is going to chase them for me. Thanks to the never-ending support from my family and countless hours of speech therapy at the Center for Hearing and Communication, I now not only know how to speak, read, and write English AND Spanish, but I can dream to be anything I want to be. Through the obstacles I have experienced, I have learned that I have to be my own hero, and that I must work through every challenge because, if I don’t believe in myself, who will believe in me? After all, I do not think I will be able to turn a burger without burning it. But really, why tell me the sky is the limit when there are footprints on the moon?