Ellie Lymon, a native of Chicago, was diagnosed with autism at age 4 after persistent speech delays. While the future may have seemed uncertain at the time, Lymon, now 14, graduated valedictorian this year in her class at Our Lady of Tepeyac High School on Chicago’s Southwest Side.
“I was in a little bit of disbelief,” Lymon was quoted as saying in a report by Wbez.org, describing her reaction after learning she had made valedictorian. “and I was so happy. After all those late nights where I have to do late work, making] sure it was right … it just felt really great.”
Due to the school closures caused by the Covid-19 pandemic, Lymon is unsure if she’ll able to give her address in front of her classmates and family. The school is planning a drive-through ceremony later this month in the building’s parking lot, and is also considering having another ceremony in July.
Speaking to Wbez.org, Lymon was frank about the difficulty she encountered making friends growing up, as well as bullying she experienced due to her autism.
“It was sometimes hard to understand my classmates and communicate with them, and some were nice but others weren’t,” she said. “Even though they didn’t know what I had, they could tell that I was different from [them], so it was a little hard to make friends.” She added that at times, “people would make remarks or tell me that I wasn’t going to succeed and I wasn’t going places and that I wouldn’t be able to do as many things as kids who are not autistic.”
Lymon said she was encouraged to persevere by her mother, an immigrant from Mexico who speaks mostly Spanish.
“I always told her, ‘You can do it, and don’t tell me otherwise because I know you can,” Lymon’s mother, Luzmar Jimenez, said. In middle school, Lymon dealt with communication challenges by joining a Mexican folkloric dance group, which allowed communication without language. She is also fluent in sign language and received speech therapy through elementary and middle school.
While Lymon is still revising her valedictorian speech, she has reserved special gratitude for her mother, who helped her achieve her dreams.
“She sacrificed and was always by my side throughout my life and helped me to grow and become the person she knew I could be,” Lymon said.