One Story: Kelly Searsmith

So I’m Kelly Searsmith. I’m a 53 year old, autistic woman. I’m currently earning a Master’s degree in Education, in the department of Education-Policy-Organization- and Leadership in the College of Education at the University of Illinois. And previously, I earned a doctorate here in English, in Victorian Literature and Culture. And before that I went to Case-Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio. I earned a Master’s in English and a Bachelor’s in English and Psychology. I’m from the Cleveland, Ohio area from a small town called, Painesville. A little railroad town. And we came here to go to Graduate School and its been a great choice. We chose Illinois because of the strength of it’s English Department originally. And then over the years, I returned to this area because we love the town, we love the school. And I decided I that I wanted to work full-time at the University, and once I began a full-time position, I decided to go back for a Graduate Degree in Education. It’s just a field I love and we have a top ranked college in Education so it really was an easy choice. Lately, I’ve also been thinking a lot about inclusivity for, nuerodiverse students and especially students on the autism spectrum, being autistic myself, I knew that a lot of autistic students didn’t go on to enter college or succeed in earning their degrees. And I really felt it was an important Civil Rights issue, and that we could do better to recruit and enable that pool of talent in our society. Well, like a lot of people these days I had a late life autism diagnosis. I was 46 or 47 maybe when I really decided to go and get diagnosed medically. When I was diagnosed, I think I had a feeling of relief all the strange, quirky things, the constellation of things I associated with myself and who I was, all of a sudden maybe 3/4ths of them fell under this umbrella You know? That I share them with other people. It didn’t change who I was, it didn’t really change my direction in life except that, it became a special interest I wanted to find out more about how it had effected me and effected other people and how I could help them. So for me, I guess the bottom line was it was a sense of relief and maybe a deepened purpose. I had always believed in inclusion and the power of education. For me maybe if I’m, reflective: Why did I go into Education from English Education? To studying education directly, it is because I believe in the power of education to transform people and to transform the world into a better place. And of course, I’m a writer. And I write science-fiction and fantasy and sometimes essays. So, poetry, so I’ve been doing that as well. A little bit less since I was in Graduate School but I’m still active. I think deciding to go back to Graduate School was probably the hardest moment so far, it took me a long time to really decide to go back. I don’t know why. I think as an older student you, wonder if you still have the energy for it, you wonder what it will be like to be back in the classroom and that position again, and to have the constant evaluation demands put on you. But I found it to be an absolutely wonderful experience the students here the other students are very accepting, I learn a lot from them and have just had a lot of people from diverse backgrounds all ages in my classrooms from all over the world. And I have also found that I should have done it sooner. There was no reason for that kind of anxiety, I have great energy for the work, because it’s exciting, it’s challenging, it’s fun to be learning again, so I’m really glad I did it.

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