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A Columbia Patient at the Top of Her Class

BY Katie Leiby

Natalia Famous is already living up to her last name. This 21 year old is living with Sickle Cell disease and just graduated Summa Cum Laude from Mercy College with a BS in Speech Pathology and as Valedictorian of her class. Her nurse practitioner, Maureen Licursi, said Natalia is a “testament of hope, strength and courage” and we agree.  We couldn’t be prouder to have Natalia as a part of the Columbia family. Please read below for the speech she gave at her graduation.

Natalia Famous at her graduation from Mercy College

Natalia Famous at her graduation from Mercy College

83 papers, 27 presentations and countless tears later, I have the honor of standing before you as the student speaker of the class of 2016.  Regardless of all the hard work, every day was a blessing for me.  There was a time I did not think I would be here today.

I was born with Sickle Cell Anemia, a hereditary blood disorder that immensely weakens my immune system.  At the age of ten, I suffered a stroke.  While my cognition was unaffected, I could not fully control my right arm, no matter how hard I tried.  My hand was heavy; my writing was a lazy scrawl.  The signal from my brain to my right arm was completely stifled.  Luckily, the paresis left within hours and I was able to regain control.  There were no lasting symptoms and no lingering effects, but the experience really shaped me as a person and my goals for the future.  It made me want to help others who cannot fully control their bodies.  It made me want to give a voice to individuals who are otherwise unheard.  It helped lead me to speech-language pathology. 

A blessing in disguise.  Events that people would consider detrimental can lead to something positive and unexpected.  My single mom was lead to pursue a career as a physician assistant and only realized she had the affinity for doing so because of having to make decisions during my frequent hospitalizations.  Take pride in your struggle and how far you have come.  Adversity leads to overcoming obstacles and achieving, what seemed to be, the impossible. 

As the final semester of my college career came to a close, I looked over at my friend’s $50 custom made planner and the inspirational quote of May read, “You can do anything, but you can’t do everything.”  We often get caught up on things we are missing out on.  Thinking we should be doing more.  But let us focus on the anything.  Thanks to Mercy, we can be anything we want to be.       

At Mercy, my calling was confirmed and I knew this is what I wanted to do.  Every step of the way I was assured that I had made the right choice.  I gained confidence in my decision and growing skills.  So to my professors, thank you for your guidance and wisdom.

I’d like to thank my family for their unconditional love and support while simultaneously driving me up the wall.  My grandma, Hope, who gave my every opportunity to succeed.  My mother, Kim, my best friend, my confidant.  My little sister, Bella, whose charisma and spunk never fails to amaze and inspire me.  Cesar, the person who taught me how to be a normal kid and not be afraid to enjoy life in my upbringing.  My friends for all the wild and unforgettable memories.  I was fortunate enough to cross paths with so many amazing individuals.    

I want to give you all a second to think about how you identify yourselves.  By your race, your gender, your religion, your sexuality?  What makes you, you?  No matter how we identify ourselves, after today we can call ourselves college graduates. 

My name is Natalia Famous.   Whenever I introduce myself, people ask, “Are you going to be famous?!”  I would just give a nervous laugh at the played out joke.  But today, I am famous.  Today, we are all famous in our own right.  Because we will be known for the path that we will lead.

To quote Dr. Seuss, “You have brains in your head. You have feet in your shoes. You can steer yourself in any direction you choose. You’re on your own. And you know what you know. You are the guy who’ll decide where to go.”

Our destinies are decided by the steps we take and today is just one of those stepping stones.  Wherever life may take you, you have my best wishes in all your endeavors.  Congratulations Class of 2016!

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