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June 2018 Webster Kirkwood Times

Upon learning she had been chosen as one of only three Anders Tjellström Scholarship winners in the entire nation, Elise Schiller was thrilled. "I was astonished when I got it," said Schiller, who was selected from 189 applicants. "It is like all my hard work and everything I strive to be was acknowledged and it is such an honour to receive this.” But the 19-year-old is used to beating the odds and overcoming challenges. Blind in one eye since birth, the Kirkwood High School graduate also has a cochlear implant to help her hear. "I always felt like I had people, like my teachers in high school, who always believed in me," she said. "That's one nice thing about Kirkwood. People here, they just have this welcoming about them.” 

Elise Schiller"She was just hungry for knowledge," remembered Mitch Eden, a journalism teacher and advisor for the yearbook where he recalled Schiller being among the best on his staff. "From the first time I met her, she just displayed this insatiable curiosity and passion for not only journalism but really for everything. That's something you can't teach. She had it.” Abby Peterson, Schiller's college counsellor, also remembers her as an impressive pupil and a great person. "The best part of all is that Elise is one of the most genuine students I'll probably ever know," said Peterson. "She's truly kind. She is just amazing at getting things done and following through. I was just lucky to be a part of her journey and to help her along the way. She is one-of-a-kind. There wasn't anything she couldn't do."

Elise's mother said that her indefatigable quality is a trait which goes back to her childhood, when balance issues would sometimes cause her to bump into walls – but it never slowed her down.

"She would always just laugh it off and keep going," said Maura Schiller, who describes her daughter as self-motivated and tenacious. "That's how I think of her. She just keeps going no matter what's thrown in her way.” Her primary challenge has been branchio-oculo-facial syndrome, a genetic disorder so rare that only 50 people in all of history have been documented as having it. The problem can cause a wide variety of symptoms ranging from vision and hearing difficulties to abnormalities on the neck and face.

Schiller's scholarship is from Cochlear Americas which makes the Baha (bone anchored hearing aid) System she uses. The funds will help her achieve her dream of becoming a clinical psychologist so she can assist others. "For so long when I was receiving therapy, I never really had someone to look up to with disabilities," she said. "There are so many people out there with disabilities like myself who could really use that role model. I want to be that."

The Tjellström scholarship is named after a Swedish researcher who collaborated to help treat the first patient with a Baha device. Along with the similar Graeme Clark Scholarship, Cochlear gave awards to eight students across the country including enrollees at universities like Oxford, Princeton and Notre Dame. Schiller, the only winner from Missouri, studies psychology at the prestigious Trinity University in Dublin, Ireland.

For the moment, Schiller is back in the United States on summer break. But she won't be staying idle. She applied for an internship at Cochlear and was selected to work in the Denver area. Her new gig started earlier this month. She said that traveling abroad has shown her the importance of judging people by their character and knowing that it is what's inside that counts. While she's faced challenges in life, she said they've been as much a lesson as anything she's learned in school. "They taught me that I shouldn't let myself down because I have so much going right for me that I shouldn't let that stop me from doing the best I can do," she said.

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