ESS: Walking through fire

July 27, 2018 Staff Writer

At just 17, Michelle Broskie has already survived several painful experiences, emerging from them with a dedication to academics and a strong spirit. Her will to overcome obstacles has made her the Region 3 2018 Every Student Succeeding award recipient.

At 8 years old, Michelle was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes and celiac disease.

“From that point,” she said, “I had to learn to advocate for myself, [to see] if my blood sugars were wrong, to see if something was gluten free, because I’d have severe consequences if I didn’t. Celiac and gluten sensitivity ranges on the spectrum. Mine is severe.”

Then, when Michelle entered middle school, she was bullied by former friends.

“You wake up in the morning [and] they’ve created another social media account to harass you with,” she said. “It was beyond stressful. It went on relentlessly from seventh through eighth grade. And then at a certain point in eighth grade – I just couldn’t do it. I couldn’t focus in any of my classes. I would sweat profusely. Even in the dead of winter. I was shaky. I was paranoid. I never felt safe.”

On top of this stress, Michelle was shocked when doctors discovered a massive cyst on one of her ovaries. Then, they found a cyst on the other ovary. The process of getting diagnosed was itself difficult.

With emergency surgery, doctors removed both cysts, and it was time to rest. “It felt good to have it fixed. But at the same time, I knew I wouldn’t be getting back to traditional school anytime soon. I had to figure something else out. The stress and trauma of the surgery, that was not easy to get over. It was really hard in the middle of it. I fell into a really bad depression.”

Michelle transferred schools to Walnutwood High, an independent study school for students with unique circumstances. “We’re just like a comprehensive high school,” said teacher Jessica Cisneros-Elliot. “We just deliver it in a different way.”

It would have been easy for Michelle to shut herself out from the rest of the world, but instead, she dedicated herself to academics.

“I always loved school. So I always had big dreams,” she said. “Having time off while I was sick with the diabetes and celiac and then having time off with the ovarian surgery and bed rest, I had a lot of time on my hands. So I applied myself to school. I pushed through it. I worked and worked and worked and worked.”

But no one could prepare Michelle for the next threat. While in her junior year, working at a local internship, a supervisor preyed on her.

“Sophomore year was her banner year,” said Cisneros-Elliott. “We were doing great. Wonderful things were happening. And then she got the gut punch of all gut punches with that internship.”

Despite all this, Michelle first enrolled in college classes at age 15 and is now only six credits away from receiving an associate’s degree. Something once so far away is now a reality for the young woman who took everything life threw at her, and fought back. Now, Michelle finds time to be excited for the future.

“I’ve learned I’m really strong. I can overcome things,” she said. “I can achieve goals I never would even think of having. Or think of setting. Or think would even be possible. It gives me a confidence that I don’t think a lot of people have. I love myself. I trust myself. That might have been the hardest part of all this was just coming to terms with myself.

“It’s OK to be different. It’s OK to struggle. It’s OK to think you can’t do it. It's OK to have a day where you just can’t do anything. It’s OK to let yourself feel things. It’s OK to not follow the norm. Just really think of what you want for yourself.”

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