Throughout her years at Glacier High School, Opal Besaw found joy and fulfillment in helping others through her thoughtfulness, humor, kindness, determination, and writing.
With her graduation on Saturday, Besaw will begin the next chapter of her life with her sights set on becoming a children’s author, social worker and continuing her efforts as a disability rights advocate. She is in her second year on the State Office of Public Instruction’s Special Education Advisory Committee.
“Everyone deserves a chance to have their voice and ideas heard by someone and I want to be that person for people,” Besaw said.
She graduated with a 4.0 GPA and plans to attend Flathead Valley Community College for a year and then transfer to the University of Montana.
Part of what shaped her passions and aspirations was living with cerebral palsy.
“I was born with cerebral palsy, which means that the part of my brain that controls my physical movements and to some extent cognitive development, albeit slightly, was damaged before, during or after birth,” Besaw said.
“I believe that God made up for my lack of physicality by giving me this brain,” she adds. “By empowering myself to speak on behalf of others and use my voice to make a good change in the world.”
Glacier Librarian Kerrie More has no doubt that Besaw will achieve what she sets out to do. She says it’s no surprise that Besaw wants to become a social worker, as she recognizes the barriers in place for people who share her physical challenges and has the personality to influence meaningful change.
“She’ll have some really important, great stories to tell,” More said. “I can’t wait to see the light that Opal shines on the world.”
They both bonded over the book “Stargirl,” by Jerry Spinelli.
“She finds inspiration in the story of a kind, caring, free-spirited girl who goes out of her way to notice and acknowledge others, always choosing to see the best in them,” More says. “Opal is a real Stargirl because she approaches everyone without judgment and has the magical ability to brighten the day of everyone she interacts with.”
From an early age, Besaw was a storyteller. As a child with cerebral palsy, she could not always physically perform like her peers. His imagination, however, was limitless.
“I would sit on the floor and talk to myself for hours and make up stories. So one day, when I was about 8 years old, my mother had the idea to start writing them and since then I wanted to be a writer,” Besaw said.
She continues to use a scribe, but has since added a recorder and text-to-speech software to her writing toolbox and through “a ton of practice” with an occupational therapist, she says her ability to write has improved. increased in speed, fluidity and readability. .
“Writing really helps me express all of my emotions and channel the situations that I find myself in into my characters and it really helps me feel fulfilled and bring fulfillment and joy to others.
I truly feel that it is my purpose in life to make others happy.
Currently, Besaw is writing a fictional story about a 15-year-old girl who follows bands on tour after suffering a major loss.
“I think what caused this was that while I was deciding what I wanted to do for college, I felt very stuck because my physical situation sometimes inhibits what I’m able to do and that It’s a frustrating thing to accept,” Besaw said. . “So I think I related that she wasn’t running away from her problems, but she was running towards something that was a little bit more peaceful for her soul, and I think that’s why I channeled that. “
Drawing inspiration from the words of others, she says, one of the most cathartic activities she does is compiling inspirational quotes in a major journal that she reads often.
“It’s cathartic to bring out all the stuff that’s going on in my pain, but so is it,” she said, pausing. “I need to fill up [myself] with more good stuff and then I can keep writing.
Thanks to a 2020-21 Student Voice Journalism Fellowship, Besaw was also able to highlight student issues and important topics.
“I’ve written about the inclusivity of people with disabilities and their typically developing peers. I’ve also written about the impact of those early Wednesdays,” she said, who exited the response. to the Covid Pandemic “One of the most powerful articles I have had the privilege of writing was about the problem of student homelessness in the Valley.”
“I consider myself very lucky because I am part of some of these marginalized populations, but I have also been given a voice to speak on behalf of others,” she said.
Currently, Besaw is working on a disaster preparedness plan and guide for people with disabilities. The project is part of its participation in Camp EmpowHer where teens with disabilities spent a week in the Adirondacks in New York to learn disaster preparedness survival skills, leadership and independent living skills. Throughout the year, participants connected with mentors and worked on projects of interest. In July, the participants will meet in Washington, DC, to present their projects.
WHAT ALSO played an important role in his high school career was acting. She said it allowed her to see the world from another person’s perspective through different roles. Besaw said she wanted to explore how theater can be used as an outlet for advocacy.
“It’s also an incredibly safe space to talk about whatever needs to be talked about and a chance to laugh about really weird things,” Besaw said with a laugh. “I think one of the most touching things I’ve been involved in acting was when I was in second grade where I played a 10-year-old homeless man. It really changed my perspective on the problem of homelessness in our region.
Through theater I have met a lot of beautiful people who have had a big impact on my life and I love them all so much,” she said.
Writing, acting, and all the friendships she made got her through the rough times of high school.
“I’m so grateful that my senior class stick together and stay with me and help each other. We struggled in high school between Covid and the students and staff we lost to suicide over the past four years. I’m so grateful to everyone who offered me a kind word, made sure I had what I needed, and made me laugh so hard,” Besaw said.
Through all the silver linings Besaw finds in darker times, there’s a part of her that wonders if one person can make a lasting impact.
“Glacier is a beautiful place and we have a lot of lovely people, but sometimes being a teenager can be a volatile environment, and there were days in my high school environment where I would come home and just wonder, is- does that make a difference? Does what I’m trying to do help anyone? But then you remember it helps you and you kind of have to keep pushing because the world is not going to get better if we just sit here and do nothing.
“We can’t wait for change,” she adds. “We have to go there and change it ourselves.”
Glacier High School will hold its commencement ceremony for the class of 2022 on Saturday, June 4. The ceremony begins at 10 a.m. in the gymnasium. About 290 students are expected to graduate. The school is located at 375 Wolfpack Way, Kalispell.
Reporter Hilary Matheson can be reached at 406-758-4431 or [email protected]