Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Finding family has made all the difference for one graduate - By Elizabeth Richards

Mukesh Wassick, 18, graduated from Windham High School last Sunday, an event that is one of his proudest moments, he said. His life could have turned out much differently, but the support of a loving family brought him to where he is now.

Wassick, who was born with spina bifida, is paralyzed from the waist down. He had been in an orphanage in Calcutta, India since birth when the Wassick family adopted him in 2003. He was eight years old.
According to Wassick, the orphanage, which served children with a variety of physical and intellectual disabilities, did not anticipate that he would be adopted. “When I heard I was being adopted, I was excited, but kind of scared at the same time,” he said. The nervousness came from not knowing how life would be in a new place. It was a tremendous shift in culture, which took a lot of getting used to, said Wassick. 

Some of the big differences were related to no longer being in the poverty level conditions that existed where he was in India. Here, there was medical care that wasn’t available in India, and better sanitation. Going from being surrounded by many kids, all of whom had different disabilities, to having just a few siblings was also a big difference, said Wassick. “It was nice. There’s not a lot of people around you, but you still have a family that’s there for you, and siblings you can look up to,” he said.

While Wassick has not returned to India since his adoption, he said he would like to in the future.
Wassick had not had much schooling before coming to live in Windham. Because of that, they didn’t know which grade to place him in, so he began in the first grade. Finding that too easy, he skipped ahead to second grade. After third grade, he skipped once more and ended up in the fifth grade with kids his own age, including his sister Kelley Wassick, who also graduated last week. 

Some of the highlights of his high school years, said Wassick, included participating in theater, being on the swim team, and making the Windham Chamber Singers his senior year after auditioning each year.
Wassick said his physical limitations don’t really slow him down. “There are always some challenges, but it doesn’t stop me. I find a way to get around them, or get some help with it,” he said. He has a good group of friends, his family and a lot of support from the community, which helps him keep a positive focus. 

Wassick is humble and quiet, sometimes at a loss for words. He doesn’t see himself as different, but instead just an average kid who just graduated from high school and is looking to find his direction in life. Though people are interested in his story, Wassick said, “I’m just like everybody else.” When asked about specific challenges he faces, he couldn’t name any, and added, “Other people have challenges too.”
Wassick said he wants to go to college, but is still trying to figure out what his next steps are. “I haven’t really made plans set in stone yet,” he said. He wants to find a job first, and if he does head to college he will do so without declaring a major. “I have a bunch of different things I want to do. I haven’t really thought about it, so I thought maybe I’d just go as undecided,” he said.

His priority right now is to find a job so he can make some money and have something to do over the summer. He also plans to visit family in Vermont, spend time with friends, go to the beach, and just have fun.

Wassick said that what he likes about Windham is that it’s a small town where everybody knows everybody. “The best part of being here is I get to have a family and friends,” he said. “I have a connection with people.”

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