Leaders & People

Lilly and the President

President Barack Obama talks with students in the State Dining Room prior to the White House Student Film Festival in the East Room of the White House, Feb. 28, 2014. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

President Barack Obama talks with students in the State Dining Room prior to the White House Student Film Festival in the East Room of the White House, Feb. 28, 2014. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

Lilly Grossman, a ‘girlie’ girl as her father describes her, is a beautiful, effervescent, accomplished writer and filmmaker who ignites the ‘what is possible’ in the human spirit by her own wit and determination. Lilly recently met President Barack Obama when she received an honorable mention for her film, How I Use Technology in School at the first White House Student Film Festival 2014.

Standing before dozens of young filmmakers selected from over 2,500 entries from around the country on February 28th, President Obama said,

“It is your imagination, creativity, innovation, and your dreams that are going to help this country move forward.”

Lilly is a typical American teenager connected to her world with her iPhone, texting and messaging friends on Facebook and Twitter.

Her week is filled with classes and after school activities. She is the copy editor of the La Jolla High School newspaper and next year will be the editor of the features page. Lilly is also the author of The Girl They Thought They Never Knew.

Lilly giggles when she mentions her favorite singer, Taylor Swift, and how she would like to meet Swift one day.

Then Lilly’s expression changes to a more intellectually curious young adult when she rapidly lists the NPR weekend programs she listens to with habitual consistency as though she knows each host personally: All Things Considered, Tech Report, Money and Business Report, Wait Wait Don’t Tell Me, Click & Clack, A Prairie Home Companion with Garrison Keillor, and, A Way with Words.

Yet, Lilly, as much as she blends in with other teenagers, is rare and unique in her courage. Lilly is a leader, innovator and entrepreneur by her very nature to succeed in her own pursuits and contribute to society. She brings a larger message to the President of what is possible.

Born with a then unknown medical condition, Lilly has grown up with challenges in strength, balance and nighttime tremors. The prevailing thought was that Lilly had a form of mitochondrial disease. Yet, after having her genome sequenced, Lilly and her family discovered that she has two rare human genetic mutations.  But, this is not the whole story.

Beyond the science and technology in health research, Lilly is demonstrating how technology is connecting her with unlimited opportunities in education while at the same time revealing a great lesson in life. Progress in human development and accomplishments is only successful when there is the belief that everything is possible. In effect, Lilly is demonstrating that human accomplishment is not based in restrictions or limits. Instead human accomplishment is discovered and achieved in opportunity, problem solving and the seeking of more knowledge.

From the earliest age, Lilly has used technology from her laptop in kindergarten to her iPhone to pursue her studies and dream to be a writer. She uses FaceTime, iTunes, iVideo, texting, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Linkedin, GoogleDocs, Evernote, Whatpad, Kindle, iPad, and a scanner among many of her tools. Lilly uses her iPhone to text message friends and teachers to express herself. Homework is scanned and if needed, text boxes are added for her to answer the exam questions. E-text books are downloaded to her iPad. Lilly is connecting to the world through technology.

As much as Lilly has experienced many successes in her life, she continues to strive  and overcome obstacles for access to education and the same protections secured for other students. Lilly, in a polite gentle manner, has asked:

  • Why not use FaceTime to access and participate in daily classroom instructions if a student cannot be present? Apparently after some resistance, Lilly did succeed in using FaceTime during a medical absence from school, a first and now can use anytime.
  • How do students with disabilities evacuate the school building in a drill or a real emergency? Are medical mobility sleds just as prominent as fire extinguishers? Are students and faculty trained?  Medical mobility sleds protect an individual and provide a relatively easy no-lift solution for any person incapacitated during an emergency. Now, at Lilly’s school mobility sleds will be in prominent locations with training provided during the CPR session in Gym class.
  • Why do people who use WI-FI in coffee shops have better internet access than in schools? Lilly recognizes that students should have equal if not better internet access at school.

Lilly’s quest to simply learn and develop her talents and skills is a lesson for everyone. Are we as a society asking the right questions:

Imagine your own day. Now ask, “Would “Lilly” be able to live, eat, work, study, play – “here”?  What changes would need to be made?

Do all students have access to quality internet service and technology, the tools of the modern world?

Are we entrepreneurial in our own thinking to quickly efficiently problem solve with available technology, resources and talent? Imagine the economic and human talent impact and success in any office, government, non-profit or business, if entrepreneurial problem solving is engaged.

Almost 25 years ago, President George H.W. Bush signed into law the Americans for Disabilities Act of 1990 with thousands attending the South Lawn ceremony.  When President Bush signed the law, he said,

“This act is powerful in its simplicity. It will ensure that people with disabilities are given the basic guarantees for which they have worked so long and so hard: independence, freedom of choice, control of their lives, the opportunity to blend fully and equally into the rich mosaic of the American mainstream. Legally, it will provide our disabled community with a powerful expansion of protections and then basic civil rights. It will guarantee fair and just access to the fruits of American life which we all must be able to enjoy. And then, specifically, first the ADA ensures that employers covered by the act cannot discriminate against qualified individuals with disabilities. Second, the ADA ensures access to public accommodations such as restaurants, hotels, shopping centers, and offices. And third, the ADA ensures expanded access to transportation services. And fourth, the ADA ensures equivalent telephone services for people with speech or hearing impediments.”

A Native America proverb says,

“Do not judge your neighbor until you have walked two moons in his moccasins.”

Twenty-four courageous students and teachers participated in a Day in the Chair that Lilly organized for others to experience the differences and challenges that she must overcome to pursue her dreams. After this life changing experience, how will these 24 individuals influence and change the environment not only on the school campus but also in society?

As Diogenes, an ancient Greece philosopher, is famously quoted,

“The foundation of every state is the education of its youth.”

Lilly embodies a modern day Athena with expertise, fairness while wielding a sword of words that swiftly slices through the most challenging of challenges a human being will ever encounter and learn in life, that – obstacles are simply illusions, everything is possible.

Just ask President Obama, Can we do better, do more to connect all students to technology? Remember when he said, “Yes, we can!” 

By Keri Douglas, © 2014 All Rights Reserved. Must have permission to use.


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