"I went to 'Nerd Camp' for many summers; an educational summer camp. Before I had gone, I had this very awful, Hollywood idea of what it meant to be a 'smart person.' My friends and I, in middle school, would wear jeans and hoodies everyday and were very focused on our schoolwork, keeping to ourselves. But at nerd camp, I was introduced to all of these different kinds of very creative, smart people; which is something I had never encountered before. I remember there was this one girl dancing by herself on the quad, dancing with her entire heart to this song that was very important to our camp; and it made me realize that I could be different. I wanted to care less and live more. After that I became much more experimental with how I dress and with the poetry I create. I've always thought of myself as a poet. But now I continue to challenge myself in creative outlets like that. It's so easy to reach a point where you feel comfortable, but I think it's important not to limit yourself when it comes to your creative potential."
"Around the age of two, my mom realized that something was 'off' about me. I wouldn't look her in the eye, I wouldn't really engage with anyone, and I'd be off by myself playing with boxes or stacking soup cans; but I wouldn't talk to anyone. In 1995, my mom took to me to the doctor's office and they told her that I was most likely autistic. Autism research at that time was pretty limited, so my initial diagnosis when they told my mom was, 'Look. This is going to be a major factor in your son's life, for the rest of his life. He's not going to go to college, he's going to need special programs in school, he'll never be normal, and if he's toilet-trained then that's going to be his big accomplishment.'
Growing up, my mom really didn't want to believe in that. And so, as a single mom, she did everything she could to raise me well. My mom didn't tell me my diagnosis, and I didn't find out for myself until I was around 12 or 13. When I finally found out, I said to myself, 'This is who I am. It's not everything I am, it's a part of me.' Moving forward, I wanted to make something of myself and be a better person. So I threw myself into all of these activities to make me uncomfortable and to push my boundaries. I tried out for the basketball team, ran for student council in high school, and now I'm an orientation leader and RA here on campus. But I still remember those nights when I would come home from school crying to my mom, saying that no one liked me, and that my grades didn't matter. Because at the end of the day, I was being bullied for them, and I wasn't going to do anything about it. But I think I'm a lot stronger than I originally gave myself credit for. Going through all of those struggles; until you're there, you don't know what you're capable of. Strength can come from other people supporting you, but there is a lot within you. And there's a lot that you can draw on. And as long as you know who you are, and you know your story better than anyone else, that's really all you need."
To learn more about Ryan and how he's leaving his MARK on those here at Rutgers, visit:
"I just got accepted into the Graduate School of Education so now I'm kind of in that awkward place where I have to be a teacher, so I have to look a certain way. But it's not really working for me. I'm still walking around in my leather jacket and then going to school and putting on a cardigan. I guess I'm just holding onto hope that this next generation of kids is going to be super accepting, and that I can just be myself. But I think that kids are really accepting in general too. Generational or not, I think kids want to like people for whoever they are and for whatever they have. So without having to go by that prescribed 'teacher look,' I just want to get in there and say, 'This is me. Now let me learn about you.'"