Tessa Baker

Tessa Baker

(Scholarship Recipient)

Hobart and William Smith Colleges
International Relations

I was born with arthrogryposis, meaning that I have congenital joint contracture. According to Wikipedia this means, " ... children born with joint contractures have abnormal fibrosis of the muscle tissue causing muscle shortening, and therefore are unable to perform active extension and flexion in the affected joint or joints." In my case, it is present in both of my arms. At a young age, I experienced lots of physical therapy. There they worked hard on keeping my arms flexible, so that the muscles in my arms could remain active and useful to me as I got older. I will never forget when the physical therapists were in awe as I swung on monkey bars; this simple action showed great improvement in my arm's flexibility. Even still at 18, it is important that I keep my arms flexible, otherwise I risk the chance of my arms becoming rigid. This did not concern me when I was younger as physical therapy was a part of my childhood like playing foursquare.

As I grew older, I began to become more aware of the different ways arthrogryposis affects me. In grade school, I would notice when I couldn't do a cartwheel like the other kids. For a while I had a hard time washing my hair, as I struggled to reach the back of my head. Whether it is putting on a necklace or making wide turns when driving, arthrogryposis, and its effects, vary. What I think my disability has hindered most is my confidence. My condition is rare, and as a shy kid I hated sticking out. Although my disability has provided me with a unique perspective, it can also feel very isolating. I am still learning how to feel comfortable in my own body. I am proud of myself as I have come a long way in my journey with arthrogryposis; but I still have a ways to go.

Besides my disability, what sets me apart from other students is my background. I was born in South Africa and then moved to Syria when I was three. For four years, I called Syria home. I explored ancient castles, studied Arabic, and drank mango juice with chicken shawarma and falafel. While Syria was my home, I grew up in an American household. I read Archie comics, listened to Linkin Park, and ate peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwiches. My background has sparked my interest in international relations and history. It has also made me more determined to make an impact, given the devastating war in Syria right now. I plan on earning a bachelor's degree in international relations so that I can fulfill my career goal of working in diplomacy. I hope to attend George Washington University, which is listed among top tier schools as one of the best undergraduate institutions to study international relations. There, I plan on taking courses with a geographical focus on the Middle East or Europe. Although working in diplomacy will not be easy, I am determined because I feel that this is my calling. Considering how my experience living overseas sparked my interest in diplomacy, I want to give back to the refugee community. I recognize that not all are as lucky as me to go back to a safe country such as America. For a semester, I helped tutor refugee children with the University of Toledo's Family Education Program. There, I had an amazing experience and was able to connect with a young girl who had also lived in Syria. The Family Education Program made Toledo feel more like home for me, and I am very grateful for that. Although George Washington University is a great school, it is also very expensive. I am not too deterred by the price as I really feel like I am meant to go there and that I will find the means to afford it. Arthrogryposis has played a huge part in making me the person I am today. Where I lack in muscles and functionally joints, I have gained compassion, strength, and thoughtfulness. Living with a rare condition has provided me with a unique perspective that has given me more opportunities to grow and connect with others.