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Student shrugs off challenges and soars

Author: Eileen FitzGerald

Brianne Guyton is modest. Her accomplishments are not. The 17-year-old was born with vision problems she once feared would put limits on her life. Instead, she's soared.
She graduated with honors from Danbury High School on June 15. She earned scholarships from the Governor's Coalition for Youth with Disabilities, the Hord Foundation, the Greenfield Everyday Heroes Foundation, and the Lions Club.

Today she's at an orientation session at Iona College in New York, where she will study this fall.
Guyton said she's been private about how she's coped with near-sightedness and astigmatism. But she learned early on to overcame her shyness and to communicate with her teachers so she'd receive the support she needed to succeed.

"I never thought about it until now that 'Wow, I did something,'" she said in a phone interview. "I just thought it was really what I had to do to get by. But now I realize it was not what everybody had to deal with.
"I thought it was a hurdle that would set me back, but now I see that my hard work is paying off and I'm being recognized for it," Guyton said.

Joining the track team as a ninth-grader was a big help. She competed in the long jump, the triple jump and the high jump, and short sprints.

"Running track was a big part of my success. I had to keep my grades up to keep running and I had a place to go every day and see friends. They were people who were really supportive," she said, "It helped that the track team is so good."

She's joined the Iona track team, which she said makes the transition to college easier.
The coalition was created in 1994 to help high school students with disabilities further their academic goals and recognize their achievements. Including this year's 22 scholarships, the coalition has awarded nearly $500,000 to 244 students.

Guyton received a $3,000 award from the Connecticut Institute for the Blind/Oak Hill Scholarship. Members of state agencies, rehabilitation services, and parents are members of the selection team, which awarded 22 scholarships, ranging from $1,500 to $5,000.

"We look at their adjustment to their disability, the resolve they show, their high school extracurricular activities, taking into account their disability, their community activities, and their awards, honors and recognition, and their promise for a successful career," said Karen Burgess, of the Connecticut Department of Labor and a member of the coalition. "It's a very difficult process."

Burgess said she loves getting to know the students a little bit every year. "They inspire me."
Guyton said she's as ready as she'll ever be for college, though she sees one shortcoming. "The domestic things I'll have problems with -- like laundry, just because I never had to do my own laundry."

Guyton learned from her mother the lesson that she'd offer others who face challenges. "I would tell them, what do you have to lose by working hard and just doing things you want to do? You have everything to gain."

Well done, Brianne.

Copyright, 2007, The News-Times (Danbury, CT)

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