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A Journey of Perseverance: Castro Receives BC Strong Scholarship

Jennifer Castro, who was born without a left arm below the elbow, said simple tasks like tying her shoes can be the hardest. She discussed her shoelace struggle with doctors and physical therapists, but no one suggested a viable solution until she attended a camp at age 12 where another amputee showed her their method. 

“I went to this Wounded Warrior camp with a bunch of veterans who have been wounded in war and they kind of broke me out of my shell a little bit because I never wanted to talk about [my disability],” Castro said. “But they were like, ‘No, it’s only uncomfortable if you make it uncomfortable.’” 

Castro, CSOM ’26, is this year’s recipient of the Boston College Strong Scholarship. The scholarship was originally endowed with $250,000 and is awarded annually to a BC student with a permanent physical disability who has overcome adversity. 

The Class of 2005 started the scholarship to honor Patrick Downes, BC ’05, and his wife Jessica Kensky, who were both seriously wounded during the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing. 

“After my wife and I were hurt at the marathon bombing, my friends were just kind of at a loss for what to do,” Downes said. “[The Class of 2005] wanted to find some way to channel their energy into something positive and came up with the idea of doing the scholarship.”

After receiving her acceptance to BC in the Early Decision I round, Castro toured the campus in person for the first time. During her visit, she met Grant Gosselin, BC’s director of undergraduate admission.

“I was immediately struck by her determination, resilience, energy, and positive outlook on life,” Gosselin said in an email to The Heights. “Her personal and academic accomplishments, along with the work she’s done to assist other children facing similar physical mobility challenges was inspiring to me and to the committee.”

Gosselin explained how the scholarship recipient is usually selected in the spring, but this year, the committee in charge of selecting the BC Strong Scholar decided not to wait. 

“The BC Strong Scholars have typically been selected in March after reviewing applicants from the full applicant pool,” Gosselin said. “Last year, because Jen had applied Early Decision and presented such a compelling story, the committee made the decision to award the scholarship to her at the end of the Early Decision round.” 

When Gosselin called Castro and told her she was selected for the scholarship, Castro said she was shocked because she did not know about the scholarship beforehand. According to Castro, she was excited because she knew being a BC Strong Scholar would connect her to a community of other people with disabilities.  

“It’s just such an amazing feeling to be connected to different people in that sense,” Castro said. “Patrick and Jess, they’re both missing limbs as well, which I don’t see very often when I’m walking around.” 

Castro developed amniotic band syndrome in the womb, so she was born an amputee. Growing up, Castro said she did not often talk about her disability because she did not see it as much of a hindrance. She was always involved with sports, from softball to basketball to lacrosse, and said her disability did not stop her from doing what she wanted. 

“I feel like I was super shy about it,” she said. “I never really wanted to talk about it. I never wanted to focus on it and draw attention to myself just because there’s so many other things I could do. I’ve always played sports growing up. I never really had many issues with it.”

Experiences where she connected with other people with disabilities, like the Wounded Warrior camp, made her feel more comfortable talking about her disability. Castro said another pivotal program she participated in was a triathlon hosted by the Challenged Athletes Foundation, a non-profit organization supporting people with physical disabilities by providing them with opportunities to lead active lifestyles. 

“Seeing people who are double amputees on their legs and running in a triathlon, I’m like, ‘Okay, if they can do that, then I can do that,’” Castro said. “So I think … being around other people motivates me to be able to do whatever I want to do.”

To help with challenging day-to-day tasks, Castro said she used to regularly use a prosthetic arm. Castro said her prosthetic arm has functional fingers and works well, but it is also hard to carry around since it is 8 pounds, so she stopped wearing it frequently once she became more comfortable with herself. 

“I used to wear my prosthetic every day from when I was six months old to second grade, but I stopped wearing it just because I think it drags me down,” Castro said. “I think I could do more without it.”

Now, Castro said she tries to live without limits in every aspect of her life and feels she can achieve whatever she sets her mind to. 

“I think that’s something that even without a disability you kind of have to be able to do—persevere through things, especially whatever comes at you,” Castro said. 

Since arriving at BC in August, Castro, a marketing major, has joined Spikeball Club, UGBC’s Council for Students with Disabilities, Women in Business, and the American Marketing Association. 

On Oct. 25, Castro was honored at an award ceremony at 245 Beacon Street, which Downes, Kensky, Gosselin, and several of the past BC Strong Scholars recipients also attended. At the ceremony, Downes and Kensky presented Castro with the BC Strong Scholar certificate.

At the event, Castro spoke about her experience living with a disability and her growth over the years, showing the crowd how she learned to tie her shoes and explaining how important that knowledge was to her journey.

“That was a huge breaking point for me in my life just because that was kind of when I came out of my shell and started to promote more disability-related things,” Castro said. 

She also brought several of her prosthetics from throughout her life and educated the event’s attendees on how they operate. Downes said Castro spoke about experiences throughout different phases of her life as she moved from speaking about her older prosthetics to newer ones. 

“She just captivated the audience that was there,” Downes said. “It was so powerful and emotional to see what her prosthetic journey had been like … and she spoke about that with such pride, humility, wisdom and comfort, and that’s a really vulnerable thing to do.”

Every year since the committee chose the first BC Strong Scholar in 2017, Downes said the community surrounding the scholarship has grown. He said he hopes this community can support the scholars in the same way the BC community stepped up to support him and Kensky in their time of need after the Boston Marathon bombing.

“Each time we award a scholarship like we did with Jennifer, we want to say to them ‘Hey, this is not just a one off thing,” Downes said. “We’ve been really thinking about this for a while, and here’s this whole community that you’re immediately now a part of and can get all kinds of things from—friendship, resources, insights, wisdom, [and] career opportunities.” 

Castro said she met several of the other BC Strong Scholars at the event and was grateful for the opportunity to connect with other BC students with disabilities. This is a community she knows she can turn to during her time at BC, Castro said.

“It’s nice to have that different type of connection with somebody because they relate to you on a different level,” Castro said. “So I think that’s what I was most excited about when going into the scholarship—just creating that foundation.”

January 3, 2023