written by an 8th Grader, December 1999
Upper Freehold Regional Elementary and Middle School
Allentown, New Jersey
I never expected my outlook on life to change that one school day.
The day had gone on like any other. Each class seemed the same, a lesson that droned on and on, and then each student was piled with homework. Language arts was no different. It was the last class of the day, and I was itching to get out of school. My teacher was caught up in a lesson about verbs when we were interrupted by a young man, a man whom I later learned had cerebral palsy.
Paul Stuart Wichansky was the man who came into my language arts class. He walked into the room, limping awkwardly and my teacher informed the class that Paul was going to give a speech about his life. I was immediately curious about him. His speech was hard to understand, but nonetheless, entertaining.
I will never forget the next forty five minutes. I had heard about cerebral palsy, but I was never quite sure about what it was exactly. Paul's stories and videos were funny and sad. One of the many stories that he shared was about his soccer team. He was the goalie for a championship winning team when he was younger. He told us that during the season ending game, he could have fallen asleep and no one would have scored. Yet, he got the Most Valuable Player trophy after his team won. He said he always wondered why he received the award.
Next he held out a picture of a car. It looked just like a photograph. The class was stunned when we found out that Paul himself had painted it in high school. He said to the class, "All you artists out there, raise your hands." Many hands shot up in the room. "I know that you all can draw ten times better than that, if you put your minds to it." Many heads shook a vigorous "No." Paul just laughed and said, "Anything's possible if you believe in yourself."
The class grew quiet as his message sunk in. I then realized that there were two roads I could follow in my life; one was to sit around and dream, or I could make my dream become reality. I now believe that I'll choose the second path, and make my aspirations come true.
Paul showed us that anything is possible in his next story. He started out by asking if anyone knew who Billy Joel was. Again, many hands raised; we all knew about the famous singer who sang songs like Uptown Girl and New York State of Mind. Paul held up a picture of Billy Joel, and to our amazement, Paul was also in the picture. It turned out that Billy Joel was Paul's idol. He wrote Mr. Joel a letter saying how much he loves his music, and how Billy Joel had touched his life with his song, Just The Way You Are. Paul totally forgot about that letter, and his mom surprised him with two tickets to a 1993 Billy concert in Philadelphia. The very next morning, Billy's people responded to that same letter, offering him eight front-row seats to one of his 1993 Madison Square Garden concerts. Paul politely declined the offer, asking them to please give those tickets to another fan who also wrote to Billy but did not yet get a chance to see him in concert (since Paul already had the night before!). This proves that when you believe in yourself, others will too.
He also shared with us his goal of being able to walk like a normal human being, and I looked down at my own legs in disbelief. I realized for the first time how lucky I am to be able to engage in sports and walking in general. Whenever he shared a new hope or dream, I thought more about my life.
I thought about all of the time I had wasted, sitting in front of the television, when I could have been working on making myself a better and more understanding person. I began dreaming of all the things I could do with my life, and how precious it is. I felt blessed for being given the opportunity to function without any difficulties. Every day I take as if it is my last, because I know that anything can happen. I treasure the time I spend with my family, instead of ignoring them. I cannot believe how that one class period could change my life so drastically for the better.
I left that room with tears in my eyes and determination in my mind. After that day, whenever I doubt myself, I think of Paul. He overcame so many obstacles set before him, and yet he turned out to be a knowledgeable and inspirational person. I now tell myself: if Paul can do it, I can too.
Now, my goals don't seem very far away. Every day when I wake up, and before I go to bed, I thank God for blessing me with the gift of a healthy life. Just the other day I saw Paul in the cafeteria, and I smiled and said, "Hi." He smiled back, asking how I was.
"Wonderful," I said, "I couldn't be better."
"That's great!", he replied, giving me a grin. As I walked away, I smiled to myself. I then realized that the key to life is happiness, and Paul helped me find it in myself and others.
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