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Winning Essay: Living With Dyslexia Scholarship
by Julia McGehean

As a child, in total frustration, I would throw my reading books across the room. I loved the stories but hated the text. I sought out others to read to me and listened to books on tape. This behavior contrasted testing in the 99th percentile in both verbal and quantitative skills and being placed in the advanced math and the gifted programs.

Soon, my teachers began to question my work and I began to question myself.

This left me in a conundrum. How could a smart kid struggle in school like this? They must have made a mistake. Although I earned a 3.8 GPA upon graduation, my efforts were triple those of my peers.

Reading is a chore. Words get in my way, dashing in and out of sight like butterflies fluttering on the page. That black and white print haunts me as it dances, vibrating in and out of focus while playing “Catch Me If You Can”. I try to follow in a straight line across the page but it wins every time.

Numbers are no different. Memorizing the times tables was an insurmountable feat. Fives would be sevens; sixes, nines and three and eight look alike. My columns looked like the Leaning Tower of Pisa or slumped in a heap and I was left to do my math with a scrambled set of numbers. Intuitively I would come up with the answer or do picture
math in my head but I could scarcely show my work.

I was a curious child with deep thoughts but struggled with sequencing my sentences to make sense of my ideas. I struggled to remember the direction of letters and struggled to hold back my tears. I wished I could just tell them what I was thinking but they wanted it in print. I wondered how others got through it.

Then I learned it wasn’t like this for everyone. I was diagnosed with an auditory and a visual processing disorder which effected my sequential memory, decoding and eye tracking skills. This, in turn,effected my reading, writing and math. These issues were minimally addressed in the classroom and my frustrations and tears remained hidden at school.

Through dyslexia, I became a visual learner and developed a passion for visual expression. I learned that I was born an artist. I learned that dyslexia, a weakness in public school, is my strength at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Art. As an artist, I am free. My academic learning issues have no effect on me here. I am free from the demands to excel through my weaknesses and free to use dyslexia as my strength!

I am now a sophomore at a prestigious art college, majoring in sculpture and minoring in painting. My future career goals is to become a working artist and teach sculpture and painting at the college level. Through my dyslexia, I interact with the world in my unique way. In this arena, my dyslexia will help launch my success as an artist.

Julia won the Gemm Learning Living With Dyslexia scholarship for the application period ending June 30, 2015.

Essay reprinted with permission of writer
August 2015

Julia’s Bio

Hometown: Yardley, Pa
School: Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Art
Major: Fine Art Major in Sculpture (Minor in Painting)

Goals and Ambitions:
Julia’s long-term goal is to become a working artist and teacher of sculpture at a Fine Art College.  She wants to create wearable couture sculptures by combining a mix of fabrics with unconventional materials to bring her artistic visions to life. She intends to one day create a visual statement that the world cannot ignore!