I want to help lift others out of loneliness and despair the way Ms. Stevenson lifted me.

Tajha Ilerant

Youth Ambassador, Special Olympics North America

When my mom passed away, my grandma helped take care of me and my sisters. It was really hard because we didn’t have a lot of money and, sometimes, my grandma would go without food so that my sisters and I could eat. I thought, “Okay. I want to do something for my grandma that’s going to put her in a better situation.” She motivates me a lot because I want her to live better.

Once, I was told by a teacher that I’d never be anything in life. I started to act with an attitude and have bad grades because I took to heart what that teacher said to me. I felt very alone and like I didn’t belong. But a few years later another teacher, Ms. Stevenson, said to me, “I don’t know what you’re going through, but you’re going to be somebody. Whoever told you that you won’t be somebody told you wrong.”

She also told me that I needed to lose the attitude because I was in high school now and I have to grow up. I thought about a speech I’d heard by Loretta Claiborne, an athlete in the Special Olympics, and how she was bullied in school. I thought about how Loretta never gave up. How no matter how hard she was bullied, she kept pushing. I decided that I needed to lose the attitude—not just for myself, but for all the other students like me who don’t feel like they have a voice. I want to help lift others out of loneliness and despair the way Ms. Stevenson lifted me.

Tajha Ilerant is a senior in high school, as well as a Special Olympics Florida athlete. She recently became a U.S. Youth Ambassadors for Special Olympics North America.