Torryburn teen overcomes tragedy to reach Harvard
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Cally with a photograph of her when she was around three with mum Valerie.
Picture: Ted Milton
A TORRYBURN teen who tragically lost her mum as a child has won the summer scholarship of a lifetime at one of the world's best universities.
Cally Mackenzie (17), of Craigflower Gardens, is off to the USA on Saturday for a seven-week summer school at Harvard where she'll take two classes, in creative writing and 'The Meaning of Madness', which explores mental illness.
The former Inverkeithing High pupil was accepted into the summer school, near Boston, after being just one of two people in Scotland to win a scholarship from the Who Cares Trust, a charity for children and young people in care.
However, the happiness is tinged with heartbreak - Cally was 10 when her mum, Valerie, died aged just 36 of Huntington's disease, a genetic disorder which causes specific cells in the brain to die.
Symptoms include physical deterioration, emotional changes and mental decline, leading to complete incapacitation and death.
And this week Cally told the Press how proud her mum would have been of her success.
She said, "She was diagnosed just after she got pregnant with me, though she could have been showing symptoms before that.
"She had a friend who helped look after her but I would be there to see it all going on.
"I've always been the kind of person who doesn't see the illness, just the person, and to me she was my mum and I loved her.
"She always wanted me to do really well and I think she'd have been really proud of me.
"She was really brave through it and I never saw her cry or complain - she was always happy and smiling, certainly when she saw me anyway.
"She never let it get in her way and even came for my first day of school - she couldn't get up early and had jerky movements but she had real determination.
"I did know she was going to die and treasure the moments I had with her.
"I still get upset now but my family has helped me grieve - it's a chapter in my life that I won't forget and it's made me who I am today."
That 'family' is the Andersons - Trapper, Alison and their children Thomas and Hazel - who took Cally in permanently when she was three.
Cally said, "My mum wanted to take care of me but she wasn't able to physically and mentally - she was tired and couldn't get up to feed me.
"I was put in care at five months and I got really lucky where I got placed - they've been brilliant and helped me through my mum's illness and death and everything in life."
And although she has a 50 per cent chance of inheriting the disease, Cally is determined not to let it get her down.
She said, "If I'm going to inherit it, I want to do as much as I can - I don't want to let it burden me.
"If I do develop it, I'd want to deal with it the way my mum did, because she was really brave."
Cally's raised funds for the Scottish Huntington's Association, having taken part in their charity bike rides for the last five years, and hopes to be a nurse - a decision influenced in part by seeing what her mum went through.
She's currently on an Access to Nursing course at Adam Smith College and has already received a conditional offer to study nursing at Dundee University in September.
In the meantime, Cally - who was feted at a reception at Holyrood on Wednesday - is looking forward to her time at Harvard.
She smiled, "It's a really good school and it'll be quite impressive and help me get a job later - not everybody gets this opportunity and it will help me with nursing as well.
"There were over 200 courses to choose from but I've always been interested in mental health, although the creative writing is a personal thing.
"I wanted to do something I enjoy and maybe even bring me something extra in my future.
"It's really exciting and a bit scary but it will help with being independent and give a taste of university life."
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Jun 24, 21:37
Jun 25, 02:12
Jun 25, 07:09
Jun 25, 09:31
you go girl
Jun 26, 12:32
What an extremely well balanced young lady. I wish you all the very best along your chosen path.
It is humbling to read about a young person's journey from care to where she is now, without one word of blame and self pity. Those who whinge, misbehave then leech off society and then excuse themselves because they have had a "troubled" childhood could learn a lot from this girl.
Recommend? Yes 11 No 0
Jun 27, 23:40