ANTIOCH – Maxwell McKeough, of Antioch Community High School, was recently honored with the National Society of High School Scholars Foundation through its “NSHSS Foundation Be Fearless Scholar Award” competition. McKeough submitted an essay about living with Asperger’s syndrome.
The competition was launched to help inspire young leaders to share their stories about being fearless. A total of 384 application from 44 states, as well as Brazil, Macedonia, Puerto Rico, and Thailand were received from high school students worldwide. The competition ran from October 10, 2013 through November 30, 2013. Ten scholarships were awarded of $500 each to students who have demonstrated outstanding leadership through being fearless.
Applicants offered their perspective on "what it means to you to be fearless” in a 500-word essay.
McKeough won for sharing this story: "The year is 2003. Or 2005. Or any time between 1998 and the present, really. I am being told to do something I am deeply uncomfortable with, be it eating a vegetable before a fruit or wiping down the table counter-clockwise. I have Asperger’s syndrome. Asperger’s is a mild form of autism. I was diagnosed at age three by my aunt and received formal verification at age five. While I struggle to meet the societal expectations of 'normal' in many ways, I am utterly comfortable with my routines thank you very much.
"The year matters now. It is 2013. I am standing on a stage overlooking an auditorium, full of strangers. I am to present to this group about how I have dealt with my Asperger’s. This is not the first time I have been on stage, but I had always been a part of a larger group, such as a choir. Now I am alone. I wish I were anywhere else.
"I unclench my fists and clear my throat. I begin with a joke and I am dimly aware that the audience is laughing. I continue the speech as I had practiced it for the preceding week. I am speaking about ways others have helped me live a normal life despite my condition. After I finish the speech I silently yearn to be home engaged in the familiar routine of practicing piano. Instead I smile and shake the strangers’ hands. They want to talk and I fulfill my commitment as speaker, despite my lack of interest in conversation.
"Once the crowd files out of the room, I relax. I have just conquered my fear of public speaking. When I had been diagnosed, the doctor informed my parents that I would likely amount to nothing and accomplish little outside of solving a Rubik’s cube. Here I stand, never having solved that Rubik’s cube, but having won choral competitions and myriad academic accolades. I have conquered certainty as well.
"I ride home with my mother as I have yet to gain a drivers’ license, which will not happen for several months. I get home and finish up my summer assignments. I am only one correctly colored English folder away from being prepared for senior year.
"It is now Thursday. I am back in Madison for the round table conference regarding my speech. I will have to entertain four groups of educators and parents. I begin with a simple joke, but now I revel in the audience’s laughter. I have surmounted this challenge before. With each group I grow more confident and enthusiastically answer repetitive questions. When all four groups have had their questions answered, I retire to the building foyer where I offer farewell to each conference participant. I am congratulated on doing a terrific job and on my earlier speech’s success. I appreciate their sincerity and the praise, but I alone appreciated the true meaning of the words.
"I have defeated the omnipresent assumption of normalcy."