Clarissa Evangelist (left) with her role model Cynthia Lopez (right).

Clarissa Evangelist (left) with her role model Cynthia Lopez (right). (July 12, 2013)


    I was born with a speech impediment, which made me sound different than everyone else at my school.  I couldn’t pronounce the letters ‘s’ or ‘r’ which made talking very difficult for me.  Until I met Ms. Lopez, I was shy around people.  I used to worry about what they might think, since I didn’t sound like everyone else.  Ms. Lopez taught me how to pronounce my words correctly, but more importantly, she inspired me to be a stronger and more confident person.
    
    When someone has a speech impediment while growing up, it’s inevitable that she will be teased.  I remember being in the classroom and always choosing my words carefully, making sure that the words I chose made me appear not to have a speech impediment.  I struggled when meeting new people because I knew the whole time they were wondering what was wrong with me. I was teased daily by my classmates at recess, causing my self-confidence to be at an all-time low.  But even if I had been having a bad week, I always knew my classes with Ms. Lopez would make things better.

    I looked forward to Mondays and Wednesdays because those were the days I had my speech classes.  I could escape from the classroom for thirty minutes and not be ashamed of how I spoke.  During our class time, Ms. Lopez worked with me on my enunciation, getting my ‘r’s to sound just perfect.  I remember being in her classroom and talking about life and how she just listened to everything I had to say, and every now and then interrupting and helping me with words that my tongue would just refuse to pronounce.  I felt completely myself in her classroom.  Ms. Lopez had a way of making me feel like a normal student, not a student who sounded weird to everyone else.

    Ms. Lopez changed my life through her classes, but she has done more in her life than just change mine.  She is a “Valley girl,” graduating from Calexico High School, and now she is involved in multiple community organizations, including Rotary International.  She is the owner of Valley Speech and Language Rehab, Inc.  She has earned two master’s degrees, one from the University of Northern Arizona as well as one from San Diego State University.  Ms. Lopez is the type of person who lives her life dedicated to making other lives better. 

    Taking speech classes for over five years, I became very close to Ms. Lopez, and as I got older, I admired her work ethic and dedication to all her students.  When I couldn’t say the word ‘squirt’ or ‘squirrel’, we would work on it for the entire class.  I still remember the day when I finally said the word ‘squirt’ correctly; I looked at the flashcard that always gave me trouble, hating the fact that my tongue wouldn’t cooperate, but this time my tongue finally let me win.  It was thrilling!   Words that came so easily to everyone else would make me struggle so much, but Ms. Lopez understood this and would slow things down and not let me get frustrated.  And now when I see the word ‘squirt’, I see it as a victory.

    My last year in speech Ms. Lopez used me as an assistant. I would shuffle the cards and separate them before all the other students got there.  I saw it as such an honor; I remember loving the fact that she felt enough confidence in me that she would give me a job.  I was able to see what happens behind the scenes, and I loved every second of it.  That’s when, in the fifth grade, I decided I wanted to be a speech pathologist, just like Ms. Lopez.

    Eventually, after going to speech for five years, I was finally able to pronounce every word that used to give me trouble.  I was confident in how I spoke, making me more vocal in class and with my friends.  I was finally able to speak up to the boys who had teased me for all those years.  Speech class with Ms. Lopez changed me; she gave me confidence that I never thought possible.  She not only inspired me to be a speech pathologist but also to be a leader in our community.