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There’s something about Desaray
When 19-year-old Desaray Carroll put on her fuchsia-colored formal dress to attend the prom, she knew it would be a night she would remember forever.
The teen engaged in the ritual of all teenage girls attending prom. With her makeup impeccably applied and her hair perfectly styled, Desaray, who has Cerebral Palsy, tried not to think about whether she would be elected prom queen by her peers.
So when the announcement came that Desaray had won the coveted title over five contenders at Coahulla Creek High School’s senior prom, she was as stunned as she was happy that her peers bestowed her with the honor.
“I was so surprised that they picked me – my friends seemed to think that I would win, but I wasn’t so sure,” she said. “I was happy – but I just couldn’t believe it.”
For Desaray, the victory on prom night was a personal triumph over her struggle to fit in with her peers. During middle school and the first few years of high school, bullies had targeted Desaray because of her disability. A change, however, occurred two years ago when the teen enrolled at Coahulla Creek High School, in Dalton, Ga. The students were able to see beyond Desaray’s Cerebral Palsy to embrace her as a respected peer through the remainder of her high school experience.
“[The students] saw what I had in common with them,” said Desaray. “They treated me like everyone else, which is what I wanted. I don’t want to be seen as handicapped because that’s not who I am.”
Rough beginnings and a forever home
Desaray Carroll was born in Georgia several weeks premature, and weighed nearly 2 pounds at birth. Premature birth is one of the highest predictors of Cerebral Palsy.
Initially, Desaray was a ward of the State of Georgia until she entered the foster care system. When she was a little more than one-year-old, Desaray was placed in the home of Jennie and William Byars, where she would spend the next 18 years. Sadly, William Byars has since passed away, Desaray said.
Desaray differs from many children in foster care because she found her forever home – a home in which a young person can spend their entire childhood and beyond – soon after her birth. Oftentimes, children cycle through several foster homes before finding the right one.
At home, Desaray joined a bustling group of children that included adoptees and other foster children. Here, Desaray said, her parents made sure she received all the medical and therapeutic attention she needed. Although she sometimes has difficulties walking and has trouble grasping objects with one of her hands, she has unencumbered use of her other hand.
As a young child, Desaray had no problems fitting in with other young people, but in middle school, something changed.
“People started to bully me because I had Cerebral Palsy,” she said. “I used to let it get to me, and I was unhappy at school. I didn’t want to go back.”
At one point, Desaray said she was “really down” about what was happening at school, and couldn’t imagine that there would be any positive changes in terms of how people perceived her.
But then, Desaray ran across the work of Nick Vujicic, a Serbian-Australian motivational speaker who has tetra-amelia syndrome, which caused him to be born without arms or legs.
In his speeches, Nick speaks of his physical and emotional struggles and offers messages of hope and healing with spiritual overtones. After seeing him speak, Desaray changed her mind about some of the taunts that were taking place at school.
“I really felt bad, but after I saw Nick, I thought that if he could do it, I could do it, too,” she said. I started to think differently about myself. I thought to myself that he’s not complaining about his condition, so I’m not going to complain about mine.”
Desaray continued to progress through the rest of middle school, and moved onto high school. She transferred to Coahulla when the school was newly opened. At Coahulla, she’s found a newfound confidence and is much happier. Desaray is part of a large group of friends.
Her best friend, Samantha McCraw, played a pivotal role in Desaray’s becoming prom queen.
“If it wasn’t for her I wouldn’t be prom queen and she is the person who’s always there for me,” Desaray said. “Without her, none of this would be possible. Savannah is the person who told people to vote for me.
In the days leading up to prom night, Desaray’s peers campaigned on her behalf at school and on social media.
“Many of my friends made posters and put them all over the school,” she said. “Everybody [posted their] status, telling people I deserve to be prom queen.
“It (the prom) was so much fun,” Desaray said. “It was the best night of my life so far.”
On May 24, Desaray turned in her prom dress in favor of a cap and gown for her graduation ceremony. Currently, she’s considering many options for her future and is in the process of selecting a college and choosing a degree programs.
Though she’s still not sure what path she will take, Desiree says she wants to help people with Cerebral Palsy develop a healthy sense of self-esteem and provide some hope to young people.
“I do know that I want to share my experiences,” she said.
Desaray plans to spend the next few months doing the things she enjoys, like working on the computer, watching television, and spending time with her unique family before classes begin.
“My advice for someone who has CP would be [to] never give up and know there are so many people who have CP. You are not the only one,” she said. “You just have to make the best of it. If I can change someone’s life by sharing my story…Then I’m happy.”
As we grow and mature into adulthood we’re bound to have goals that may not seem to be attainable, or dreams we hope come true. While goals and dreams can be grandiose or simple depending on an individual’s personality and temperament, Cerebral Palsy is not an impediment to an exciting, and ultimately rewarding, life.
- Joe’l Ash – Overcoming Adversity
- Mike Berkson – Handicap This!
- Desaray Carroll – Receiving Recognition
- Rachel Chiapparine – Addressing Stereotypes
- Karen Lynn Chlup – Stretching Barriers
- Shevitta Collins – Accepting Outcomes
- Abbey Curran – Creating Confidence
- Robert Fayz – Funding Reductions
- Jon Gilroy – Transitioning to College
- Daniel Keplinger – Painting from Within
- Priscilla Morrison – Remembering Family
- Neil Sauter – Paying Forward