Tess Murphy’19 and Jagr Krtanjek’19 were recognized this week by the Rotary Club of York as Students of the Month. Both students spoke to the organization’s membership about transformative experiences in their own lives. Below are the speeches they presented.
Good Afternoon. My name is Tess Murphy. I am very honored to have the opportunity of speaking to you all today. As I stand in front of you today, I look like a typical high school junior, don’t I? But I am anything but typical. I suffer from a chronic, intractable malfunction of my autonomic nervous system, which renders my heart and circulatory system unable to regulate itself. This condition is incurable and often strikes during adolescence. When I was diagnosed three years ago, I was barely able to stand up on my own without my heart racing out of control and blacking out. Most days, I was unable to attend school, and in the eighth grade, eventually became homebound. Ever since I was a little girl, I dreamed of walking through the doors of high school on my very first day of ninth grade. That dream was stolen from me by illness. I had to enroll in cyber school and took many of my classes from bed.
As a teenager, you are expected to have boundless energy to learn, grow, participate in extracurricular activities, and prepare for college. Suddenly, I was incapable of those things. I had to learn how to balance schoolwork and my health.
After two years of working closely with my cardiologist at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, I began to stabilize and was able to have a fresh start last year as a tenth-grader at York Country Day School. They welcomed me with open arms and made every effort to accommodate my medical condition. York Country Day allowed me to find my feet and flourish both academically and socially. For the first time in two years, I felt like Tess. Not Tess with the debilitating medical condition or Tess the girl who could never come to school. I was just Tess. I felt like part of the community. I made new friends, and even got to play on the tennis team.
The partnership I have with my cardiologist inspired my family and me to start a research fund at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia to find better treatments and a cure for my heart condition. To date, we have raised $50,000. My experience has been transformative. Rather than let my illness define me, I decided to take charge and be an advocate for other teenagers like me. Volunteering and speaking at the Dysautonomia International Conference in Washington, D.C., this past summer gave me a platform to help others. I have certainly come a long way since I was diagnosed. It is a victory and an honor for me to be able to stand here today. Thank You.
It is a great honor to be speaking to everyone here today. Firstly, I would like to thank the faculty and administration of York Country Day School for selecting me to represent my school. I have been a student at YCDS since pre-school, and if you were to ask my peers and teachers about me, it probably wouldn’t be long before robotics was mentioned. Robotics is a huge part of my life. Starting when I was 10 years old, I participated on Lego robotics teams. My enthusiasm for Lego Robotics caught the attention of my middle school science teacher, and I am so grateful that Mrs. Charleston asked me to help start First Lego League at York Country Day School when I was in seventh grade.
Since that time, dozens of York Country Day School students have participated in the program and gained valuable skills. This enthusiasm for robotics grew and in eighth grade I was a proud founding member of the GearHounds, our resident high school robotics team at York Country Day School; the first of only two high school FTC teams in York.
In addition to robotics at school I am entering my fifth year participating on FRC team 225 TechFire, York’s award-winning community robotics team. These teams are part of the worldwide organization FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology), which has a motto “More than Robots.” While my primary contributions to these teams have been mechanical design, programming, and CADing robots, this experience has also allowed me to hone many more skills and to share my experience with others. These include practice in public speaking, teamwork and collaboration, and meeting objectives within financial and time constraints.
Through school, I discovered I enjoy graphic design and am proud to have designed pieces for theater productions and TechFire’s team banner, the robot logo, and promotional giveaways this past season. It has been humbling to see something I created be enjoyed by my classmates and by robotics teams from around the world. Off the field of competition, as a member of the GearHounds and TechFire, I have been able to give back to others by helping younger students on FIRST Lego League teams learn programming and to be prepared for competitions. I have also been able to give back by participating in blanket drives, distributing gifts at the holidays, and collecting school supplies, books and canned food to support the local communities here and where we compete.
I recognize that I could not do all these activities without the generosity of many contributors that afford me these opportunities. While many are direct connections, such as my teachers, my mentors, and my family, there are others like Professor Giorgioni of Penn State York, who volunteered his time to teach CAD to our team, and Mr. Jim Anderson of Coupling Corporation, who generously provides the space for TechFire to design and build award-winning robots. I am grateful to all the people who have helped me get to where I am today. Though I haven’t fully defined my career path yet, I know my experiences being part of these robotics teams have equipped me to face whatever challenges I will meet. I am grateful for the generosity and support of many people and organizations in the York community for giving me and other students these valuable experiences.