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Schooling Academia

From struggling elementary school student to successful college graduate, Melissa McDonald discusses the challenges of navigating school with a learning disability.

As a child, Melissa McDonald didn’t like school, and it appeared that school didn’t like her either. "All the elementary school teachers knew I was a problem child, so they already didn't like me when I showed up in class," McDonald says. "I was two years behind in reading. . . and behind on all the standardized tests." Although McDonald was quite smart, her unstable home environment and ADHD made schooling extraordinarily hard. But despite her many obstacles, McDonald overcame her aversion for academia and went on to excel at BYU.

The youngest of six children, McDonald was just a baby when her mother divorced her father. Over the next few years, her mother remarried twice, and their family constantly teetered on the brink of poverty. “My mom’s great. . . she did the best she could,” McDonald explains. “[But] she was trying to put food on the table, she didn’t have time to read to me. When I was in fifth grade, she found out I was failing school. [Soon after] I was diagnosed with ADHD.”

By the time McDonald reached high school, she still didn’t know her multiplication tables. Still, McDonald found success competing in high school track. She also began to draw from the example of friends who did well academically. McDonald started staying late after school to get help on hard assignments, using her lunch times to study, and working hard. Soon, her grades improved.

McDonald was also encouraged by her mother to pursue higher education. After raising her grades, she discovered a new hurdle: the ACT. Unfortunately, McDonald’s ADHD made it “painful for [me] to sit for very long and do something for very long,” and despite her best efforts, McDonald struggled to succeed. Although McDonald took the ACT seven times, her final score was still disappointing.

Despite this setback, McDonald’s hard work in school and extracurricular activities paid off: she was accepted to BYU. Ecstatic, McDonald happily enrolled and moved to Provo. Unfortunately, college came with its own challenges.

“It was very stressful going to college,” McDonald says. “[College has] all these papers. . . and with ADHD, my thoughts are kind of sporadic, so building an idea or a cohesive thought doesn’t always work.” To improve her papers, McDonald finished papers two weeks prior to the deadlines, and spent the two weeks prior to the paper deadline revising, visiting the on-campus writing center, and working with TAs and professors to improve her writing. She also took advantage of the Accessibility Center, a service on campus that teaches students how to manage their learning disabilities. “[With my ADHD],” McDonald explains, “I had to go above and beyond.”

McDonald also faced financial hardships; unlike many students, she paid for her own college tuition. “I tried to keep an academic scholarship to pay for my tuition, so I could stay in school,” McDonald recalls. This put additional pressure on her to perform well in classes, which meant McDonald had to make sacrifices. For example, she often chose to stay late on campus to study, rather than socialize with friends.

Her hard work paid off in the end, though, and McDonald graduated with a Bachelor’s degree in Family Life. While she has since moved on and started a family, McDonald still draws strength from her experiences at BYU. “I feel like that’s why college is so good,” McDonald reflects, “Yeah, it’s hard, but now, in my career and life as a mom, it’s like I’ve been through hard things. I can do it.”

Grad Year: BS 2014
College: Family, Home, and Social Sciences
Major: Family Life
Post date: June 8, 2018