My name is Lolita Kravchenko. As a child I lost 60 percent of my hearing after suffering a series of painful ear infections. I also stuttered. I became very insecure about myself, super sensitive about what people thought of my speech and of the machines on my ears. I was angry at the world for letting this tragedy happen to me at such a young age.

I am Russian, born in Almaty, Kazakhstan. In kindergarten and first grade I lived at a special school for children with disabilities. But in 2001, my life took a sudden turn; my family won the United States Green Card lottery. My mother’s bravery and courage allowed us to move to New York. That’s when I got new hearing aids. It was amazing, a real shock. If I take them out, I can only hear someone who’s standing next to me.

The transition to America was beyond difficult. First, they made me skip second and third grade and put me directly into fourth. I was constantly bullied for my stuttering, my appearance, my lack of English, and my poor social skills. Things began to get a little better in middle school, when I became more academically involved. In high school I accepted my flaws and began to get good grades. I made friends and took part in extracurricular events. That’s when my life really started.

Currently, I am a sophomore at Baruch College, working towards my Bachelor’s in Accountancy. Instead of letting my disability limit my abilities, it actually motivates me. I couldn’t have done it without the support of my family, especially my mother. She had to leave my sister behind, who is still in line to come. It was so painful to leave her.

Lolita will graduate from Baruch this December.