Transforming Lives: Moving Beyond is a testimonial series written by AU students and alumni who want to acknowledge how AU has helped shape their lives.
It’s a space for those who want to thank the people who have helped to support and transform their AU experience to achieve their greatest successes; all while looking forward to their future educational and personal potential.
Their story is worth shouting from the rooftops! Have an inspiring story of your own to share? Email us! We’d love to hear it.
Overcoming bumps and hurdles
My name is Rakesh “Kris” David, and I am a student at Athabasca University. I was born in June 1996, with severe multiple congenital abnormalities. My congenital (or at-birth) abnormalities include severe craniomaxillofacial deformities, eye disorders, and minor limb disfigurements. These abnormalities, along with complications that have arose after my birth have caused me to have permanent disabilities that have a far-reaching impact on my life.
I have completed over 60 reconstructive surgeries and procedures since I was born, and the long list of surgeries and treatments will continue for the foreseeable future. While, I have had many surgeries, hospital stays, and clinic days, along with the pain and healing which have stolen parts of my childhood, I still consider myself to have had a normal childhood, at least from my experience and perspective.
Although I have overcome many bumps and hurdles along the road to adulthood, I have been successful in my elementary and secondary education in the areas of academic performance, co-curricular, extracurricular, and community involvement. I have been active in many community projects, debates, and quizzes. I have also held several student leadership positions and even participated in many national events. At the age of 12 I was selected to participate in the “You Are Not Alone” outreach and awareness campaign with the organization AboutFace. This program and this organization advocates for children, as well as adults, who have facial differences. My journeys, ambitions, struggles, and facial differences were displayed in the hospitals and other venues in Canada for over a decade. I have had several interviews and articles published from coast to coast that shared my struggles and journeys such as this 2008 article that was picked up nationally. I did this and will continue to do this to help Canadians recognize the issues that both children and adults with facial differences face, as I believe I carry that responsibility of being one of many advocates for the facial difference community.
You can't blend in when you were born to stand out
Unfortunately, there is a darker side in my journey too. Because I was born with very different facial and physical features, I have been a victim of teasing, bullying, discrimination, and have been singled out and treated differently throughout my life. However, this adverse experience, despite its intolerable nature, has made me a stronger and more mature person.
My favourite quote is: “You can’t blend in when you were born to stand out.” This message has been a powerful motivator that has gotten me to where I am because I recognize that I was born for a reason and that I have to use my “gift” to my fullest potential. I know that I will have to work harder, I know I will face very different challenges than my peers, and I know I will have to overcome extraordinary obstacles. But what I do know is that these challenges that have and will continue to face, and these barriers that I have and will continue to break through, will show myself and others around me of my strength and determination. It remains the message that has gotten me to where I am today, and I encourage individuals who have physical and facial differences to take and act on this message and apply it to their circumstances.
Journey to AU
I completed high school in 2013 and was eager to start my post-secondary education. Unfortunately, I had to withdraw from several post-secondary programs because I could not attend classes physically in-person due to complications of my medical conditions. I was then left with no choice but to find an alternative mode of education that could support my medical circumstances and disabilities.
Fortunately, my tumultuous personal and academic journey has now landed me right here at Athabasca University (AU).
From the moment that AU recognized I was a prospective student with disabilities, they put me in touch with their Access to Students with Disabilities (ASD) department. ASD guided and assisted me throughout the application, registration, and orientation phase of my journey as a student. They also made sure that all the accommodations or supports were in place for my disability needs before my courses began.
It was at this point I realized that I can do this, that I finally have an opportunity to complete my post-secondary education, as I have never had such a high level of academic support, understanding, and accommodation as a person with a disability at the post-secondary level.
Luckily, the primary delivery method of my program with AU is online distance education. This is the most accommodating mode of education for me, and how AU has set up their portals and learning interface makes things a lot easier to work through once you complete the very important orientation tutorials.
I am so thankful to Athabasca University, as if it were not for this institution, I would still be struggling to attain a post-secondary education. Most post-secondary institutions have not been eager to offer any holistic assessments or exceptional considerations for persons with medical or physical disabilities for students like me. And if someone were to ask me what my only regret was since I left high school, my answer would honestly be that I did not find out about AU sooner.
Since AU has allowed me to succeed in my post-secondary academic goals, I can now finally chart career options for my future. I believe I can be an extraordinary asset and representative to Canada’s federal public service, political system, or diplomatic and foreign corps. and I owe it in part to Athabasca University to help me attain these future goals and qualify for these opportunities. Thank you.
Rakesh is an individual who has overcome extraordinary challenges and defied enormous odds as a person with physical disabilities and facial differences to get where he is today. He credits Athabasca University for providing him with the necessary supports and accommodations to get him through his four-year Bachelor of Arts in Political Science degree in pursuit of his goal to be an asset to Canada’s federal public service, political system, or diplomatic and foreign corps.