Student wins Truman Scholarship while clearing life's hurdles

HATTIESBURG, MS (WDAM)- When you meet Marie Holowach, it is quite apparent that she is a highly intelligent and dedicated Southern Miss junior studying Speech Pathology.

"I would like to be a Clinician, I would really like to focus on autism, I would also like to work in  schools to help make schools and the entire education system more supportive towards autistic students."

Marie has a 4.0 GPA, she's a Presidential Scholar, a National Merit finalist and she just learned she is the second student ever at Southern Miss to be awarded the prestigious Truman Scholarship, which gives her $30,000 for graduate school and leadership training.

Robyn Curtis, with the Office of National Scholarships and Fellowships at Southern Miss worked with Marie on the application process for the Scholarship.

"She worked harder than any other student that I have had in 30 years, she also had a compelling story to tell. I think they saw that she had a true personal commitment to seeing through the outreach that motivates her and not everybody has that."

Marie knows first hand, how important it is for teachers and peers to not only support kids with autism but to understand what it is. She was diagnosed at fourteen with Asperger Syndrome, a form of Autism which impairs social and academic development.

Marie said when she was younger, "I had a lot of trouble in social situations, I encountered a lot of bullying especially in middle school.  That compounded with some of the anxiety disorder that comes along with Asperger's, made it extremely difficult to function in a main stream school setting."

With some home schooling, therapy and medicine Marie acquired the tools she needed to be as successful as she is today.

"I guess it's sort of like, I was born speaking a different language from other people. It's like you have the autistic language and the neuro-typical language and I had to learn everybody else's language. Now I speak fluently, but sometimes I still speak with an accent."

An accent which she plans to use in the near future, to help the 1 out every 100 kids like her, who live with autism.

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