Crossing the Finish Line: Profiles of Confidence, Courage, and Hope

Hannah Turiansky ’03

Hannah Turiansky, who completed a double major in history and studio art, is a woman who has turned what most would consider a disability into the inspiration for a meaningful and extraordinary message. Born with a cataract, mandating the removal of her natural lens at nine days old, she is nearly blind in her right eye and has no depth perception. She spent eight years wearing a patch to balance her vision and was often teased as a child. It was in her senior year at Scripps that she transformed these experiences in her study of photography.

Through photography, Hannah was able to study sight, displaying her artistic sensitivity to vision through her senior art project (one of three Lucia Suffel Crafts award winners for 2003). She had started studying photography in her Core III class, becoming increasingly interested in photography’s role in representation and identity. “History is the study of selective ‘truths,’ so to speak,” she says, of combining her majors, “and photography is one form of recording ‘truth’. . . but the camera, which is often thought to be a truth-teller because of its clarity, remains subjective.” Her finished display, called “Insight,” is a series of black and white images that explore conceptions of sight utilizing the contrast of blurred and sharp images to evoke a sense of purposeful insight. Hannah’s project, consisting of six black and white photos developed from 91 separate images, critiques the medium of photography itself and challenges the notion that clearer, sharper pictures are more factual and therefore more valid than blurry ones. Hannah stresses the importance of personal experience influencing one’s work, a theory that she first encountered in a history course while studying bell hooks’ [sic] analysis of authorship in relation to identity. “Something so subjective as sight shouldn’t have standardized views of what is right,” the recent Scripps grad says.

As a woman who has let her experiences broaden her studies, she was surprised to find herself studying photography. However, her senior seminar adviser, Susan Rankaitis, the Fletcher Jones Professor of Studio Art, never saw Hannah’s eyes as a disability, explaining that “most artists are quite nearsighted and don’t perceive depth very well, which is why they can render three-dimensional things well two-dimensionally,” Rankaitis also believes that Hannah’s challenges as a child made her “more sensitive to others, and in a sense, gave her more clarity of mind.”

This fall, Hannah will continue her studies in the Draper Interdisciplinary Master’s Program in Humanities and Social Thought at New York University.

Jessica Lefils-Shaw ’03

As a first-year student, Jessica Lefils-Shaw struggled daily with the debilitating disease juvenile rheumatoid arthritis. She remained dedicated to her education, attending classes while her bullmastiff, Grace, carried her books. However, after her first year at Scripps, she was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, a disease that affects the central nervous system. After her diagnosis, she spent time in the hospital and needed assistance taking notes in class.

Yet, Jessica has been adaptive to progressive changes in her physical appearance and abilities. Acknowledging that her range of opportunities is limited by physical restrictions, she remains motivated. In her own words: “I want to do as much as possible now, while I’m young. I want to be as active as possible, every day, every moment.” Experiencing the psychological, neurological, and physiological aspects of her own medical conditions guided her decision to pursue a degree in neuropsychology. While studying abroad, she studied indigenous medicine in Brazil and Australia, where she learned techniques that help her in taking care of herself today. She believes that she developed more independence while at Scripps, which, she says, “prepares you for work in the sense that [employers] expect integrity and 100% effort in everything you do.”

“I am conviriced that the way we feel, believe, and identify, directly affects the performance from our body,” she says. Her multiple sclerosis has been in remission since July 2002, and she is looking forward to graduate studies towards a Ph.D. in pediatric psychoneuroimmunology at Ryokan College in Santa Monica. Jessica currently lives in Beverly Hills, where she is in medical supplies sales.

Patricia Santos ’03

With tenaciy and strength, Patricia Santos was able to overcome enormous obstacles to achieve her lifelong goal of becoming a college graduate. A single mother of three, Patricia worked fulltime, tackled legal battles, and maintained a high GPA to complete her education at Scripps College.

Patricia chose the struggles of single motherhood over what many would consider a perfectly stable life-one with a husband, a home, and a well-paying job-when she agreed to take in three abused infant boys who would later be diagnosed with ADD and other learning and eniotional problems. While working towards formal adoption, she found herself unemployed, divorced, renting again, and challenged with the task of providing a home for the children and her recently impoverished elderly parents as well. “Taking in three young children was extraordinary, but raising them as a single parent was something even a strong and determined woman like myself was unprepared for,” she admits in her senior thesis. Disrespecting Children: Disclosing the Adverse Effects of Children’s Public Policies, An Autobiographical Case Study. Instead of crumbling under the responsibility, Patricia simply accelerated her plan to become a professional in law. Already certified as a paralegal, she rushed to complete an associate’s degree-with an outstanding academic record-before applying to Scripps.

While at Scripps, her sons’ social workers portrayed her as a mother who was “too busy with [her] education” to properly care for her children. They subsequently filed an accusatory report with the County of Los Angeles, who, in response, abruptly removed the boys from Santos’ care. It was at this moment in her life that Patricia put the spirit of empowerment and enrichment she received as a Scripps student to good use. She notes: “[Scripps] prepared me to withstand this major blow; had I not had a network of support at Scripps I would not have gotten through it.” She began researching cases similar to her own and took a stand against the Los Angeles Department of Child and Family Services. Eventually, she regained custody of two of her children, but is still fighting through the court system for her youngest.

Though far from a “tradtional student,” Patricia never felt that she had to choose between her family and completing her education, and largely she credits this to her relationships with the faculty. She maintains that a Scripps education affords its alumnae “the ability to forge through when life gets in your way,” and she proudly offers her own story as living proof. Patricia’s post-graduation plans center on applying her legal knowledge to continue to fight for the return of her youngest son.

Santos also plans to continue her studies this fall at Claremont Graduate University, where she will pursue a master’s degree in applied women’s studies.