Feb 04

Taking a Different Spin on Adversity

Maria Manon speaks at Scots Encounter class at Rim of the World High School

To look at Maria Manon – mother, student, teacher, board member of the Rim of the World Educational Foundation – is to look at a woman who exudes confidence and success.

But, as she told freshmen in the Scots Encounter class at Rim of the World High School, she – like just about everyone – has faced challenges and adversity. “Today,” she explained, “we are going to take a look at how we view adversity.”

Manon asked the students to write one or two sentences about a challenge they have faced and then one or two sentences about how they feel about that challenge.

A lot of people, Manon said, think of adversity as a mountain, as something they have to climb over. “I prefer to think of adversity as a river,” she said. “Something we go through, travel through, and can look back from.”

She showed the students a portion of a Ted Talk by Paralympian Aimee Mullins, whose advice included to embrace adversity, grapple with it, even dance with it. Quoting Darwin, Mullins noted the one most adaptable to change is the survivor.

Adversity, Manon told the students, is change we haven’t adapted ourselves to yet. “You have the power to reimagine a new beginning,” she said.

Manon shared a bit of her story, telling the students she had been born in the Dominican Republic. She went on to become an immigration attorney and then turned to her real passion: teaching. While teaching in Washington, D.C., Manon was diagnosed with a brain tumor. She told the students she has had two surgeries and radiation, all of which affected her vision.

“This difficult experience,” Manon said, “taught me more than anything else about myself and other people.” She was touched by the generosity of other people.

“I’ve developed empathy for other people,” Manon said, “and developed clarity about the things that matter.”

She added that she used to think of adversity as a setback. “Now I ask how I can learn from it, grow from it.”

She cautioned the students that she is not saying anyone should create adversity. “It just happens in life,” Manon said. “I’m not here to tell you how to think. I’m here to give you a different perspective.”

When asked about her prognosis, Manon said she is stable. This experience, she concluded, has made her think about who she spends her time with and what she spends her time doing.

“I used to be a worrier,” she said. “I’m less so now.”

—Mary-Justine Lanyon

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