Auger & Auger Congratulates Grady Smith, a Spring 2023 Disabled Scholar Award Winner

Author: Auger Law | May 17th, 2023

 Health and nutritionist Dr. Dean Ornish once wrote that “the need for connection and community is primal, as fundamental as the need for air, water, and food.” 

Growing up, our most-recent Scholar With Disabilities Award Winner — Grady Smith — was blessed with a large family, meaning he always had a close-knit community to rely on at home. At the same time, he has always endeavored to be a part of other communities, spurred by his respective loves for music, sports, science, the outdoors, and perhaps most pointedly: board games.

That last one is far from a coincidence. Playing board games is a form of communal bonding where participants are engaged in a common goal, either in opposition or cooperation with one another. Most board games mimic aspects of our life that bring us a distinct sense of pleasure, including strategy, risk/reward, resource collection, recognition, identification of the familiar, and the satisfaction that comes with gradual development towards a specific goal.

The shared experience of being within a community — whether surrounding a crowded coffee table or camping in the woods — is something Grady intends to bring with him in the medical career he aspires to. “My goal as a Physician Assistant is to not only treat the condition of the patient,” he writes, “but to build a relationship with them.”

Grady’s attitude embodies the joy he experiences within the communities that have helped him thrive, a joy he clearly intentionally shares with others. After all, healing through medicine is just as much about building human connections as it is providing treatments.

Growing up in a Big Family While Pursuing His Own Path

Grady tells us that he was one of six children in his household in rural Western Pennsylvania. While in some aspects that can mean less to go around, in his experience it always seems to have meant more. More friends, more people to learn from, and more people there to support and encourage him throughout his life.

Throughout his experiences, Grady has never felt that his childhood diagnosis of bilateral hearing loss has made him feel separated or left out. Thanks to his hearing aids, he is able to participate in all aspects of life without hinderance. But it doesn’t mean that he hasn’t had to deal with his own unique set of challenges.

“When I was first given hearing aids, I was too young to understand their purpose, and my confusion was topped with my peers’ questions. They asked why I was wearing hearing aids.”

He also mentions how these experiences have enabled him to learn and grow. For one, his teachers and intermediate unit aides taught him in-depth about the anatomy of the ear and how hearing works, in order to better-understand his condition. He also was given the opportunity to be made responsible for his own ability to participate in everyday life, in the form of caring for his hearing aids as part of his routine.

“Over the years I learned more about my personal hearing loss and the use of hearing aids, as well as the responsibility that comes along with them. Keeping track and taking care of two small pieces of expensive equipment was intimidating, and still is, but I learned responsibility. Stepping out of class to fix them, or the hearing aids dying mid-interview for a university taught me to adapt.”

Grady’s medical diagnosis and reliance on medical devices made him different from his peers and other siblings. But, at the same time, he notes that his appreciation of those differences have led him down his own personal path. While one of his siblings is a member of the U.S. Air Force, he realized that his own dream of serving in the military as a career was impossible because of his condition. 

At first, he felt helpless. “It was out of my control.” But because of his introduction to science and anatomy at a young age, and his appreciation of how understanding can lead to healing and empowerment, he became drawn to the idea of becoming a Physician’s Assistant. Following his own path, Grady is now set to begin the program for Accelerated Physician Assistant Studies at Gannon University in Erie, Pennsylvania. 

Achieving Victory Points in Life While Forging Fellowship

Inspired by his two older brothers, Grady joined the scouts and played baseball. He even achieved the rank of Eagle Scout.

At the same time, he enjoys his own set of diverse hobbies and interests. He was on multiple championship basketball teams. He plays guitar, trombone, and saxophone, and he also conducts for his school’s marching band. He has participated in the National Academic Games and led a number of clubs within his school.

One of his favorite pastimes, though, is playing board games.

“My family has a collection of over 200 board games, and I have had an opportunity to play almost all of them (especially during the year of 2020 during the COVID pandemic). I have played games from simple to complex, cards to boards, and short to unending.”

When asked if he had a regular gaming group, he says his family is his gaming group! They love playing all sorts of games together, often on weeknights and especially around the holidays. 

One of his favorite games of late is the beautifully illustrated Wingspan, a board game about building your own “flock” of birds who can help you earn points through their different synergistic abilities. He says part of the enjoyment of the game comes from another one of his loves: bird-watching, and identifying birds based on their songs. But he also loves it as an excuse to bond and chat with his folks.

“My two parents and I play it often, and the laid-back mechanics of the game make it a wonderful game to have a conversation during. I always enjoy catching up with my parents after a long day while playing a beautiful game, especially considering that I usually win ;).”

Grady’s passion for board games inspired him and a friend to co-create their own 501(c)3 nonprofit: Games to Give. So far, the organization has donated over 3,050 games to 1,900 people, with a focus on families in need as well as U.S. military personnel deployed overseas. Games to Give has an annual board game drive for children in need, and they routinely donate gently used games to local camps, churches, and youth organizations.

While Grady will soon be busy with his PA program (a PA in PA!), he will no doubt continue his dedication to enjoying music performance, joining clubs, and — most likely of all — making new friends over the course of many, many games played together.

Recognizing the Ability to Succeed Within Yourself

Despite being handed a form of medical disadvantage at a young age, like any good game-player Grady has maximized the advantages he has been given. He intends to harness all of the lessons he has learned and passions he has cultivated towards his new career as a Physician’s Assistant.

“My previous experiences will help me achieve that,” he says with confidence. “The patients I see will not only be cared for by someone who uses his knowledge and technical abilities but also someone who cares about them.”

One of the biggest lessons he’s learned and wants to share with others experiencing similar challenges is that they don’t deserve to be treated differently. 

“All that is different is that we have to prepare for environments and communicate with others about accommodations if necessary. Since I was in kindergarten I have talked with all my teachers at the start of the school year about my situation. My friends often forget I have a hearing loss or wear hearing aids, and ironically I do too sometimes! If you see someone with a medical device or a hearing loss, don’t treat them differently. If they need any help with their situation, they will tell you.”

He also wishes to share these following pearls of wisdom to anyone who may feel like they are struggling with a disability:

  • “You aren’t alone. There are a lot of people who have conditions too, and a lot of people who will help you if needed. Don’t ever feel helpless.”
  • “The only thing limiting you is your attitude, never your condition.”
  • “Use your situation to your advantage. My hearing loss has enabled me to spread awareness throughout my school and community, and show others that we are ‘normal’, and you can too.”

Statements like these are emblematic of an attitude that is positive, ready to make most of any opportunity that comes its way. After all, while we can’t control the hand we are dealt, we can make the most of it — sometimes coming out as a total victor, but always having learned something, while deriving enjoyment along the way.

Posted In: Disabled Scholar Recipients