Lilly Bonnie thinks it’s OK to be different. And she’s not afraid to speak up about it.
“I’m not a conveyer-belt kid,” said the senior at Foxcroft School in Middleburg, referring to many young adults who follow the crowd and follow the script. “I am my own person and I follow my own path.”
For Lilly, it’s always been that way. Born with cerebral palsy and dealing with epilepsy, she struggled with fitting in as a teenager. She arrived at Foxcroft as a quiet, self-conscious 14-year-old who was not yet sure of her place in the world, according to Barbara Conner, the school’s director of counseling. Three generations of her family - her mother, grandmother and great-grandmother – had attended Foxcroft, the residential girls’ school noted for its academic excellence and for instilling leadership skills in young women.
While Foxcroft is a nurturing place with high expectations, there were struggles. A program called A Place to Be made the difference. The Middleburg-based nonprofit organization helps young people face, navigate and overcome life’s challenges through the therapeutic arts. There, Lilly discovered her identity. She found that she loved singing, dancing and acting. She wrote, performed, taught and advocated for the Same Sky Project, a musical program that toured local schools to educate people about living with disabilities. Soon she was performing in productions of “Aladdin,” “Little Shop of Horrors” and “The Little Mermaid” at A Place to Be. Then, it was on to roles in “Oliver,” “Chicago” and “Legally Blonde” at Foxcroft.
The metamorphosis of the beautiful butterfly that is Lilly Bonnie had begun. She became a leader in the office of student life, a student ambassador for the French program, a mentor for incoming freshmen and an assistant for theater productions at Foxcroft. She continues to volunteer at the place that helped define her, A Place To Be, where she counsels students.
In September 2013, Lilly wrote and performed an original monologue to educate the student body at Foxcroft about cerebral palsy. From her heart, and without notes, she stood center stage and spoke with passion and compassion about living with disabilities.
“Her words captured the heart of the audience in a powerful way,” Conner said. “This brave girl had found her voice. She had summoned the will to discuss something that was hard, but important.” There was not a dry eye on campus, Conner said.
It is Lilly’s spirit, and not a physical condition, that defines her. A quiet leader who has found her own voice, the confident young woman who is Lilly Bonnie is setting off on her own course after graduation from Foxcroft this spring. Before college, she is taking a “gap year” to travel, volunteer and find the next place to be a leader. Lilly thinks it’s OK to be different.
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