Local High School Students are Changing the GameDecember 18, 2017

For the first time, the Pujols Family Foundation held an essay contest in conjunction with the annual O Night Divine Christmas Gala. The essay contest focused around the question “how will you change the game?” St. Louis high school students were invited to write about a time they felt isolated and/or share their experience with the Down syndrome community. Then, students wrote about the ways in which they are helping to create a better community for those with Down syndrome. On December 9th, five essay contest finalists attended the foundation’s annual gala to represent their work. Of the many entries we received, these five students stood out above the rest:

Zoe Y. Grotjan, Barat Academy, 9th: “The truth is a simple person who has yet to make a great accomplishment, such as Albert Pujols, can make a big impact…I can make a difference by speaking out about Down syndrome.”

Ryan Joehl, Barat Academy, 11th: “If more teams, not just regionally but across the nation, encouraged more athletes with Down syndrome to join us, then myself and other coaches would eagerly embrace the chance to enrich their lives and the lives of their families….”

Tori Stuart, Incarnate Word Academy, 11th: “All people, no matter their abilities, should be treated as equal individuals so that they can reach their full potential, and live life to the fullest.”

Mekiyah Willis, Incarnate Word Academy, 9th: “I [went] to school with someone with Down syndrome and I used to be scared of him even though…he would always talk to me and say hi with a smile…He made me realize that they are not “scary” or “different” people. They are like everyone else and should be treated that way.”

Lauren Yarusso, Incarnate Word Academy, 11th: “Accepting them as they are and realizing they are unique and different in their own amazing ways is the start of building this acceptance everywhere.”

When asked how they would change the game, each had a unique take on how they can impact the Down syndrome community for the better. The Pujols Family Foundation was excited and inspired by these students and their work. At a time when the lives of those with Down syndrome are often not valued, it is both refreshing and important for students like these finalists to celebrate the Down syndrome community. 

At the 13th annual O’ Night Divine Christmas Celebration, Miss Tori Stuart was recognized as the Change the Game Essay Contest Winner. From an early age, she has shown a deep desire to make a difference,  and her commitment and passion is already making a difference in the lives of many. At the age of 12, Tori started a program called “Victory Volleyball”, a summer camp that makes the game of volleyball accessible for all. Now, Tori is in her junior year of high school, and the camp is only growing. Through Victory Volleyball, Tori and the campers are helping to encourage an atmosphere of inclusion and socialization. 

Congratulations, Tori, and thank you for changing the game! 

Special thanks to Barat Academy and Incarnate Word Academy; our guest judges, David Suttle and Joanne Lui; and to all the students who submitted essays—we were inspired by your work and passion for changing the game!



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