Auger & Auger seeks to award individuals with disabilities for their passion and effort towards not just improving their own lives but also improving their communities. While millions pursue higher education every year, most of us have not had the obstacles put in our path that a major health diagnosis can lay. Yet, despite these challenges, our recipients demonstrate the strength of spirit and will needed to not just meet the “typical” standard but excel past it.
These criteria are why we have chosen our most recent recipient, Lauren R., without hesitation. At the age of four, she was diagnosed with hereditary spastic paraplegia, “a rare disability that affects the muscles in my legs.” There is no known cure, but there are intensive surgical and rehabilitative treatments. After two rounds of treatments — one at age eight and one in high school — Lauren was still able to return to not just a normal school schedule but one where she was able to obtain over 500 community service hours and graduate Summa Cum Laude.
Lauren also started a project known as “Love Notes”, which allowed her to share her passion and therapeutic healing by teaching children with disabilities how to play the piano. She intends to pursue a degree in biochemistry and to one day hopefully, work within the Shriner Hospitals for Children as a research scientist.
Thank you for your hard work, Lauren, and we anticipate even more amazing things coming from your future. We hope that others can learn from your example and go the extra mile to make a difference in their community, no matter what challenges stand in their way.
Saying “No” to Half Efforts
When we asked Lauren about a time in her life that presented tough mental challenges — not just medical or physical ones — she recalled the choice presented to her while missing school as a result of her treatments.
“Due to my multiple surgeries, procedures, and therapies, I have had to take time off from school for my recovery and rehabilitation. During these times, my physician recommended that I may want to consider a less rigorous schedule or even be homeschooled. Although I respected his opinion, his suggestions were not an option for me.”
Instead of dialing down on her school work, Lauren dialed up her effort. When given the option to do only half of the assigned homework, for instance, she instead completed 100% of it to the best of her abilities.
Her goal in all of this was to ensure that she did not fall behind her peers and that she had the same academic opportunities they could achieve through high performance.
“I knew that I wanted to challenge myself and be surrounded by a community of thinkers and learners. I knew that I wanted to push myself out of my comfort zone so that I could grow in a meaningful and constructive way. Although my teachers told me that I only had to do half of my homework problems during my recovery, I did all of them from my hospital bed.”
This hard work, despite being afflicted by pain and demanding physical circumstances, paid off dividends when it came time to be recognized for graduation.
“Because of my strong academic determination, I came back to high school before the end of my recovery process and graduated Summa Cum Laude and with over 500 community service hours.”
When asked how she might advise others to push through a similar experience, she said that they have to be able to define their own limits in light of their goals and aspirations, not what others tell them they can aspire to.
“My advice to someone going through a similar situation is to never let your disability define or confine you. Throughout your life, you will have challenges that you will have to face. During difficult times, seek love and support from others. Learn from your experiences, as these ‘life lessons’ will be fundamental to your personal growth.”
Lauren also advises that individuals have the courage to assert their own opinions and wishes for themselves, while also helping others do the same.
“Put yourself out there — become your own advocate and an advocate for others. Most importantly, be yourself, and don’t ever let anyone make you doubt your potential.”
Finding Love in Every Note
One of the biggest outcomes of Lauren’s perseverance is a program designed to share the healing and growth-promoting influence of music. She began a service project she dubbed, “Love Notes,” a music program in which she teaches children with special needs to play the piano.
“I founded ‘Love Notes’ because I want these children to be able to benefit, both intrinsically and therapeutically, from the positive effects of music.”
Lauren emphasizes the enormous role music played in her growth and progression. She paints a beautiful picture of the power individuals can realize in themselves when they not only appreciate beautiful music but learn to make it themselves.
“Playing the piano has enriched my life in so many ways. It allows me to express myself, builds my confidence, and gives me personal gratification. It has carried me through the dark times and has helped me celebrate the good times. It has allowed me to become a better version of myself while giving me a means to help others.”
Another one of Lauren’s goals is to dispel the notion that disability means that someone lacks the capability to excel in their pursuits.
“My mission created awareness for society’s responsibility to ensure inclusion for all individuals, regardless of ability. ‘Love Notes’ is not only making a difference to children with special needs; it is making a difference in the world by spreading awareness of acceptance and inclusion. These children want to be treated like everyone else — with hopes, dreams, and plans for the future. I hope to make that happen.”
Learning to Love and Respect Everyone as Humans, And Seeking Support From the Humans You Love Most
Many people with disabilities can feel like others tell their stories. They can feel like others speak for them, as well. Knowing this, we wanted to give Lauren a chance to have her voice heard when it comes to what changes she would like to see in how the world views and treats individuals with disabilities.
“I hope that one day our world will be more inclusive and realize that people with disabilities want to be treated just like everyone else,” she told us. Above all else, “they want to be included. They want to have conversations about normal everyday things. They want people to see beyond their disability, and to not feel sorry for them.”
Reflecting on this ethos, Lauren told us that, “if I had to sum it up with 3 words, they would be: acceptance, inclusion, and love.”
As for someone in her life that showed her love and support, her answer was as direct as could be.
“This one is easy. My grandmother. She is always looking out for me. Our conversations are so special. Whenever I am feeling down, she knows just what to say to make me feel better. She lifts me up and has helped me so much over the years. She has so much faith in me and in my abilities. A big part of who I am and what I have achieved is because of her. Her words of wisdom will stay with me forever. She helps me see the good in everyone and everything. She is my rock and I thank God for her every day. I love you Grammy!”
Thank you, Grammy, for your shining example, and thank you, Lauren, for putting in more work than asked and finding beauty in the everyday lives of people around you. We anticipate that you will excel in your chosen college or university program and begin making an even bigger positive difference in the lives of those around you.