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"Papa, can I become a doctor?"

"Well, you will not know until you try!"

And he went on to become a practicing psychiatrist at the top US hospital. Of course, in the process, he worked extremely hard, had his fair share of failures and setbacks but eventually studied medicine at Temple University where he graduated with honors.

Said David Hartman, PhiBete, Husband, Doctor and Blind, on his legendary success, ‘Everyone is handicapped in some way.’

Sheena Iyengar, born of Sikh immigrants from Delhi was another such fighter. She lost her eyesight to retinitis pigmentosa and by the time she was ten, she was completely blind. A graduate of the prestigious BS in Economics program from Wharton, and later on a doctorate in Social Psychology from Stanford, she taught at MIT Sloan before moving on to her current assignment at Columbia Business School. She is rightfully recognized as the leading voice in management and thought-leadership. She never let her difficulties come in her way of success!

And neither should you.

Similar to what David said, we all are handicapped in some way or the other. A specific handicap — just because it has a name, should not deter you from your path. In fact often times, it becomes a source of strength and a means to success.

We have had students whose brush with depression gave them a deeper understanding of how people suffer in such a situation and made them more empathetic to the needs of various patients. Couple of them went on to study Clinical Psychology and Neurological Psychiatry at places like UCL and John Hopkins. Another student had Autism and a history of troubled childhood. Raised by his uncle, he had come to embody the strongest quality that has become so rare to find these days — resilience. He secured an admission to study Economics at Wharton. Another person who was dyslexic secured admission with 50% scholarship at HEC Paris. These countless stories convey a very simple message — your unique situation or difficulty should not prevent you from trying. And if you try, and are committed to sincere efforts, you are bound to succeed.

As parents, well-wishers, mentors and friends, we have a unique role to play — that of recognizing these people as not dis-abled, but rather as uniquely abled (in spirit and in practice). I have come to believe so absolutely. While I am cognizant of special needs of these students of ours, I have seen them compete as fiercely as any other dedicated student and win/ (or lose) on the merits of their efforts. A student who had such uniquely abled circumstances was keen to go to Cornell to study design — an integrated course in system thinking, art, engineering and growth-oriented, open mindset. As she created her portfolio, she faced many challenges, chief among them were the voices around her saying, ‘Can she..’ or, ‘She is so frail. Can she go alone…’ etc. But her father, always an independent kind of a man, let her be herself. He always said that if she wants to, she can go anywhere, and do anything. She eventually created a compelling portfolio, and was able to secure an admission in the extremely selective, design program.

In many ways, study abroad is a better option for uniquely-abled students. Indian education system still has elements of discrimination embedded in it. Places like US, UK and Western Europe, on the other hand are extremely egalitarian in their approach and offer equal opportunities for these people in the truest sense. And as they are groomed at some of these top colleges, they are able to find much more confidence in their voice and are able to give a specialized edge to their talents. They are able to develop their strengths, irrespective of tags, and compete and win in a professional setting.

Go ahead — dream on. More importantly, work hard and never give up on belief. It is as simple as that — if your neighbor can get into Stanford, so can you!

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