On Thursday, a prizegiving event is being held at my school and I can’t make it. Not because I’m staging a wild protest – although that’s something I would do – but because I’ve got a prearranged appointment for something exciting. Even if I didn’t have that, Ow still wouldn’t go because the prize I’ve been ‘awarded’ has not only upset me but it’s hurt me, more than it would seem if you look at it on the surface. Will that make me sound arrogant or ungrateful? Perhaps but I’m willing to take that risk to show how sometimes, well-meaning actions can have the opposite effect.
Prizegiving is huge here for years 12 and 13; parents come, there are guest speakers and it’s held in a Church. Especially for year 13, it means a lot because it’s our last year here. You can get achievement prizes, academic prizes for a specific subject, attendance prizes and that kind of thing. Last year, I won a prize for achievement which I was so so proud of myself for because I worked so fucking hard on my GCSEs I knew I deserved those grades.
This time, from my Head of Year, I’ve been awarded a prize for ‘overcoming adversity’. That’s all I’ve been told: ‘overcoming adversity’, overcoming a difficulty, achieving despite your difficulties – and the only difficulty they know I have that could restrict my education is that I’m blind. Yes, it could be something else, like the fact that I struggled with mental health last year but that was nowhere near bad enough, or rather nobody saw it get bad enough, to warrant a prize for ‘overcoming adversity’. If they’d awarded it on the basis of mental health or external circumstances, hands down, somebody else would have got it – someone who deserved to get it.
It’s not that I’m not grateful. I’m happy they thought me worthy of a prize, when for the last year I’ve been thinking I’m either stupid or that nothing I do is worthwhile. It’s the prize itself: it feels like they’re awarding me for surviving the education system with a disability. It feels like they’re awarding me for existing, for ‘beating the odds’, for being disabled and still succeeding in education. And that would be fine, if I deserved it; that would be fine, if my disability affected every single thing I did to the extent where the act of going to school was difficult; that would be fine, if there weren’t so, so many other people who would deserve it more than me – who have had it much worse than me.
That’s the first reason I’m upset or angry. The other reason is much more personal and is the reason I cried earlier when I found out. I cried instead of being ecstatic and the “why” is quite simple.
The reason I came to this school was to get the best possible education I could. I didn’t want to go to an entirely mainstream school because the ones around my area weren’t that good and couldn’t have supported me anyway, such as preparing my work. I didn’t want to go to a school specifically for visually impaired students because I didn’t feel like that suited me, as I wanted to be surrounded by a lot of people and didn’t want to feel trapped. In short, I came here because I wanted to be like everyone else, without my education being thrown to the curb if I didn’t get good support. And, for the most part, Ow succeeded.
However, I’ve always been known as the “blind one”, or my year sometimes treat me with caution like I’m a doll or something delicate. People don’t often know how to act around me which hurts so much. I’ve always wanted to be recognised as more than my disability, with the blindness being a side thing: “Oh, there’s Elm, she’s short and takes the piss out of herself for it; she writes.” I’ve tried so hard to break free of stereotypes set for myself and others and again, for the most part and majority of people, it worked but the thing that hurts is that the school – the place where I’ve got such a good education – sees me as their blind person and as the one who did well despite a disability, not did well and that was the end of it.
There’s a silver lining to this. I was in the atrium, talking to two of my friends who I got close with when I went to Berlin about this and started crying out of anger and just general sadness. I told them that I felt like I wasn’t really getting an award, that people still viewed me as different when I wanted to succeed just as much as anybody else. They hugged me, sat with me for about 20 minutes and just talked everything out; chatting to people who don’t know me as well but are willing to put the effort in helped to make me feel more included. I love them for that; they took time out of their day to comfort me, along with another girl who didn’t know me at all yet said that she’d never viewed me as “the blind one”.
I’m still angry, still upset that after all I’ve done to try and stop my disability being the first thing people see, they would award me a prize that’s either focused on my disability or something similar. However, I do know that at least some people in my year besides those I’m with at break and lunch, who’ve known me since year 7, don’t view me as separate. I might not be able to stop the teachers from thinking that I’m “so brave” for coming to this school and getting good grades, but I have proved to some of the people around me that there’s more to me than the eyes. The others don’t matter because they never tried.
I’m only here until May and then I’m out. Then it won’t matter how the school see me. I’ve been here 7 years almost and I haven’t managed to prove to them that I’m successful not despite my disability but for my own merit. However, I’ve managed to prove to myself I’m strong-willed, more than that blind girl and I’m respected for myself, to the people that matter.
From Elm 🙂