At age 13, Hannah Fitton was diagnosed with a rare genetic disease called Usher Syndrome, which causes hearing loss and impairs vision. The 2010 graduate of Appleton North High School still played cello in her high school and college orchestras and swam competitively in NCAA Division I at Colgate University. Hannah received a $500 scholarship from the Community Foundation’s Margaret Ferris Scholarship for Hard of Hearing Students. She has already topped that with a donation of $513 to start her own Hannah Fitton Living Your Dreams Scholarship Future Fund at the Community Foundation, the first scholarship fund in our 30-year history established by a recipient of one of our scholarships. When her fund reaches $15,000, it will help graduating seniors from public high schools in Appleton, Neenah, Menasha, Kimberly and Kaukauna who have a physical disability. We asked her to tell her story in her own words.
By Hannah Fitton
When I graduated in 2014, I waved good bye to Colgate with a diploma and a desire to create opportunities for students with disabilities to experience their own educational adventure.
The Living Your Dreams scholarship was created for many reasons – all punctuated by: “Why not?” In a way, the scholarship is a thank you to my home community – the Fox Cities. It’s a way to express my gratitude to the educators, the coaches, the families, the neighbors who helped to shape the life of a girl who would much rather read than play, swim than run, and start a conversation with “How come?” than “Hello.”
For 14 years, my personal stories were intricately connected to the Fox Cities. I was four when I received my first cherry red hearing aids from my audiologist in Appleton. Five when I started speech therapy at Richmond Elementary. Nine when I picked up the cello for the first time at Heid Music. Ten when I broke my first swimming state record with the Fox Cities YMCA. Sixteen when I won my first international swimming medal in Taiwan, a few months before I received my first white stick from my mobility instructor. Seventeen when I decided to attend Colgate, a liberal arts college in upstate New York, 900 miles from home.
I remember all my scholarship awards with pride and gratitude. One provided summer study in Albania and Romania. Another involved a photo shoot with a milk mustache to promote student athletes. A local award for students with disabilities connected me with the Community Foundation. All of the awards contributed to my personal, academic, and athletic growth at Colgate University.
Every step of the way, I am learning how to live and thrive in a world that is a little silent and a little blurry, with the support of my family and communities in which I live.
I have never viewed my hearing impairments as limitations on life. My disability gives me potential to share with the world a story that is unique, honest and full of adventures. I strongly believe that dreams are meant to be experienced and stories are meant to be shared.
The Living Your Dreams scholarship will always be associated with the number 13. Colgate University was founded in 1819 by 13 men with 13 dollars and 13 prayers. I hope that the same spirit of community and academic curiosity lives on, not only through the creation of the Living Your Dreams scholarship, but also with the scholarship’s future recipients.