You Get What You Ask For: Ben Explains the Value of Self-Advocacy
Hi. I'm Ben. I’m from the small town of Aberdeen on the Washington coast. It is a rural and ethnically diverse area with a large and growing population of migrant workers and a number of neighboring Indian tribes. I am an avid reader and thinker, enjoy competition, am a reformed jock, and also have a learning disability.
My parents always had high expectations for me, with respect to personal effort, not specific accomplishments. They both understood that not every child is born with the same skill set. In turn, they expected that each of their children would simply do their best at everything they did. In addition, and likely more important, since my parents are people of grace and dignity, they had the same expectations of me as they did of my siblings.
I’ve always been a curious person, which at times got me into a bit of innocent trouble. I am interested in anything and everything. I also am dyslexic and dysgraphic, which means I struggle with nearly every aspect of written language. Specifically, I struggle with handwriting, note taking, and grammar. Collectively these struggles negatively affect my language comprehension relating to written forms of language. My curiosity, coupled with my struggle with written language forced me to develop an excellent memory and set of listening skills. These skills have served me very well through the years.
I spent much of my time in school frustrated. I was unlike most of the other special needs students my teachers had encountered. I am bright, articulate, and intellectually aggressive, which made me a bit of a struggle to deal with. This reality left teachers, aids, and the administration wondering where I could fit in. Fortunately, my parents were willing to be entirely selfless during my youth and pour themselves into my life and my struggles. My mother played the lead role as an advocate for me. She knew that she had a gifted child that deserved an outstanding education. She also knew that an adequate background in language would be absolutely critical to my future success. That motivated her to push for very progressive policies and accommodations for me. In addition she wanted me to remain in the mainstream classroom and not isolated from my classmates. Although school was not always a positive place for me it was something that I enjoyed. I truly thirst for the experience of learning.
Starting in second grade, I was blessed to have another person, Kasey, who like me later became a DO-IT Scholar, as a classmate. Our similar learning disabilities and strengths in the same class in a small town was a situation that could only have been created by God. Kasey and I became best friends, teammates, and leaders in our community. Our friendship grew as we shared nearly every passion and struggle and each realized great success.
The DO-IT Scholar program assisted Kasey and me in two ways. One was the great up-to-date lap-top computer that DO-IT provided. That piece of technology along with adaptive technology programs including Kurzweil 3000 and Dragon Naturally Speaking, allowed me to effectively do my school work and interact almost seamlessly with mainstream business people. The other was the opportunity to live on a college campus and see what a university is really like. Although my time at DO-IT made me realize that I needed to be further from Aberdeen than the University of Washington, it gave me a tangible goal to work for - a college education. I also appreciated the DO-IT philosophy that failure is a learning opportunity and nothing more.
College for me was never not an option. My field of study was selected long ago. Some family friends of ours have often said they thought I’d make a wonderful lawyer, and hopefully this is true. For me it isn’t about the money or anything material; it’s about the opportunity. The medium of the law is what frames our reality here on earth. It is the binding human contract between man and the state. In turn, I have developed quite a passion for the law and advocacy through its use.
Going to any great college is like immediate information and opportunity overload. The first year, suddenly you have the opportunity to do and see things that most high schools never offered. I loved every minute of that here at the University of Oklahoma. I went to more events, met more friends, and joined more organizations than I knew what to do with. And, while it was an incredible time, it probably wasn’t the most realistic. One of my biggest struggles has been deriving a personal philosophy that matches my feelings and experiences, while trying to remind myself that I was at school first to go to class. Fortunately, I’ve done just enough going to class to be graduating with honors, but along the way it has been my personal development that I’ve enjoyed most.
My major has changed, but my goals have not. I split my degree in an effort to get a better education. I chose political science because of my love for politics and the way in which they influence our lives. I later chose to couple that with economics because, as I studied political science, I kept observing that our world and politics are largely driven by financial issues. I believe that although these degrees are incomplete on their own, together they provide a very nice intellectual position from which to view our world.
Now I’m trying to gather a set of experiences and skills that make me valuable in the job market. I’ve worked in a number of internships in positions with the University of Oklahoma, at EPA and currently with the United States House of Representatives. I had a fairly easy time securing a jobs and internships; I’m willing to ask for them. It has been my experience that the world is full of opportunities but that people have to be very flexible and proactive as they search for them. In short, you get what you ask for.