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Bossier student overcomes obstacles, earns scholarship

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Courtesy Photo | McKenzie Gordano is this year’s recipient of the Dill Family Perseverance Award, presented to an NSU student who has overcome hardship to fulfill their goal of becoming a teacher. She is pictured with Dr. Kimberly McAlister, left, head of the Department of Teaching, Leadership and Counseling, and Dr. Vickie Gentry, dean of the Gallaspy College of Education and Human Development.

McKenzi Gordano of Bossier City is an inspiring example of an individual overcoming adversity to realize their dreams. Gordano has spent her college career battling multiple sclerosis while pushing herself to achieve her goal of becoming a teacher. For her dedication she has been awarded the Dill Family Perseverance Award in Education, annually presented to a student pursuing a degree through Northwestern State University’s Gallaspy Family College of Education and Human Development.

“My advice for anyone out there with a disability such as mine is know that your ABILITY is stronger than your DISability,” Gordano said.

Gordano knew by age 5 that she wanted to be a teacher.

“I knew that teaching was meant for me.  Northwestern was the only school that I had applied to because I knew that they had the best education department,” she said.  “I expected to be challenged, but what I didn’t expect was to get sick my freshman year.  My very first week of college, I had to go home and ended up in the hospital.  A couple painful tests later, it was revealed to me that I had been diagnosed with multiple sclerosis.”

Multiple sclerosis is a disease of the central nervous system that disrupts the flow of information within the brain and between the brain and body. Gordano has bruises on her brain that can be seen via MRI.  The bruises can trigger a flare-up and have done so many times during her college career, with results that are often very different.  Sometimes her vision is affected; sometimes she can’t remember how to complete simple tasks like holding a fork.

“When I was first diagnosed, my first thought was, ‘My college career is over.  I am never going to be able to be a teacher,’” Gordano said.  “I fell into a deep depression my first semester.  I had even, at one point, considered dropping out of school.  Then, a miracle happened: I found a friend.  She was also an education major and we quickly became best friends.  She encouraged me every step of the way to keep going and I am stronger than MS.”

Her friend was correct.

“I am stronger than MS.  If anything, MS was probably the best thing to ever happen to me.  I’ve pushed my limits and discovered that I can do anything that I set my mind to,” Gordano said.

To manage, she has adjusted her ways in the classroom.  If she is going through a flare where she cannot feel her writing hand, she lets her students go up to the board and write for her.  If her legs are not working, she sits on top of a desk and lets the students go to her for help.

“Every day is different and every day is a learning experience.  I never let the MS show,” said Gordano, whose cooperating teachers didn’t learn about her condition until weeks after they had been working together.  “I don’t complain about it.  MS isn’t an excuse to get out of doing things, it is my drive for working harder at everything.  Without being diagnosed with MS, I would have never found out how truly strong of a person I am and how strong of a teacher I could be.”

Gordano said MS had made her work harder and her determination to succeed in the classroom has tripled.

“I wanted to be a good teacher – not anymore.  I AM going to be a great teacher,” she said.  “Even when my legs are paralyzed and I have to be in a wheelchair.  You can bet your bottom that my wheelchair will be decked out in hot pink glitter and my teacher pouch will be around it so I can easily access my pens, pencils, stickers and even some candy to bribe my students with to do well.  I will be ready for that day and until that day comes, I will keep on keeping on.”

“McKenzi is a fighter,” said Dr. Kimberly McAlister, head of the Department of Teaching, Leadership and Counseling in NSU’s Gallaspy College of Education and Human Development.  “Her passion and enthusiasm to teach will positively impact the lives of children for years to come.  McKenzie’s dedication and perseverance embodies the spirit of the scholarship as set forth by the Dill Family.”

The Dill family established the scholarship in honor of three sisters and a niece who attended Louisiana Normal, as NSU was known until 1944, and became teachers.  Three generations of the Dill family, whose roots are in Ascension Parish, contributed to create the scholarship that is intended for a student who demonstrates character in overcoming hardships and has a strong desire to become an educator.  The award is a one-time gift to the selected student, who must have a 2.6 or better grade point average when nominated for the award.