Evan Thompson ’09: I Remember The Day I Was Labeled As "Different"

This article originally appeared in The Beacon Spring 2013 issue.

I was in the second grade at Solomon Schechter School, and on that particular day I was taken out of Hebrew class and placed in a special “catch up” program, as it was termed by the other students. To complicate matters, I was not on the same reading level as the rest of my classmates, and this meant I had to spend additional time out of the classroom and in the resource room, where attempts were made to get me to the reading level of my peers.

Nothing worked, and it stayed that way through fourth grade.

I constantly heard the same refrain from my teachers: “We are surprised at you,” they would say. “We’re disappointed in your efforts; you can try harder.” I heard this over and over again, and it got to the point where I thought I was simply not teachable. Although I had applied to The Windward School at the beginning of my fourth grade year, my family was told that I would probably have to wait until sixth grade to enroll due to a lack of available seats. Longing for a better environment, I enrolled in my local public school in the middle of my fourth grade year. I entered with a complete lack of confidence in my ability to learn like other students, and I was hoping that I would be accepted at Windward.

The day Ms. Maureen Sweeney, the Director of Admissions, called to say I was admitted, my mother cried. The next few years at Windward, where I spent the fifth through eighth grades, opened up a completely new door for me.

When I arrived at Windward, my fifth grade teacher, Ms. Ruthanne Mahoney, told me firmly that I was capable and was able to learn. From that moment on, everything changed for me, and it wasn’t long before I was achieving academic success. Armed with a new sense of self esteem and confidence, I began to explore different interests, including running and drama. It was the administration and teachers at Windward who pushed me to strive for success when I first began to explore my love of running and the theater. I began competing on Windward’s cross country team, encouraged by Ms. Marilyn Hunt, the Director of Athletics, who had discovered my potential for the sport. Windward’s drama club, then under the direction of Ms. Patel, encouraged me to participate without fear.

When it came time to leave Windward, I enrolled once more in my local public school, knowing that Windward had taught me to advocate for myself and had given me the tools needed to achieve success. Windward helped me understand that I should not view my learning disability as a disability but as a difference, and taught me to educate my teachers and peers as I went forward.

I continued to push myself throughout high school, participating in cross country and track as well as drama. I spent a summer abroad studying acting and script writing at Oxford University in England, and also spent a summer at Northwestern University as part of their Cherubs program, for select high school drama students. Upon graduating high school, I went to Israel to compete in the Maccabiah Games as a member of the United States Track and Field delegation, and came home with a silver medal for the 400 meter relay.

I decided to pursue my passion for drama when it came to college, and I auditioned for and was offered a place at New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts. I will graduate from Tisch this May, having studied drama, and I have been fortunate to have had a number of great experiences. I performed the lead role of Eugene in a summer stock theater production of Brighton Beach Memoirs, at the Town Players of Newtown, in Connecticut, and will be performing this spring with the Atlantic Theater Company in an Off Broadway musical for children under the direction of Elizabeth Swados. I have also completed my first feature film starring Mira Sorvino, in which I served as a production assistant and had a supporting role.

In addition to my drama work, I ran track and cross country at NYU, and spent a semester studying with the Semester at Sea, a study abroad program that allows students to immerse themselves in different cultures by circumnavigating the globe and backpacking in 14 countries. I also spent the summer between my freshman and sophomore years doing environmental work in Australia’s Blue Mountains. The following semester I chose to get involved in student politics and was elected to the Inter Residential Hall Council, planning events for the student body. I also spent two years interning with casting directors in both New York City and Los Angeles. This led to starting my own casting company this past year with a fellow NYU student.

If it wasn’t for Windward, I wouldn’t have been able to achieve any of these things. I still carry with me today the tools Windward gave me, from organizational skills to learning how to clarify and seek assistance. I learned how to assess my strengths and weaknesses and how to advocate for myself, thereby being able to face every challenge that came my way. I learned that being learning disabled doesn’t define who I am; being learning disabled didn’t make me less than others, it just meant I learned differently than others. As I look forward to graduating from NYU, I am excited to dive head first into the unknown, knowing I have the ability to face any challenge.