Senior Arielle Ascrizzi is like many other graduating, questioning what life after Commencement will bring; but, unlike her classmates, Ascrizzi faces more serious uncertainties.
During her freshman year at GW, Ascrizzi was diagnosed with an untreatable form of lymphomic cancer, which she will most likely live with for the rest of her life. She spent weekends during her sophomore and junior years flying between D.C. and her hometown to undergo experimental therapy.
“I think it’s funny when people say I’m ‘battling cancer,'” Ascrizzi said. “You don’t really do anything. You can do whatever your doctors tell you, and that’s about it.”
Ascrizzi has a rare type of Lymphoma affecting the T cells just below her skin. She said there are only about 50 cases, affecting mostly older people. Thus, little research for a cure has been done, and any treatment she receives will be experimental.
“I made the choice not to try anything unless I was sick enough that I couldn’t live my life anyway, and that hasn’t happened yet,” she said.
Ascrizzi said she flew home almost every other Friday to undergo cancer treatment in Boston. She called the traveling more of a “time commitment” than anything, adding that she felt like she may have missed out on some social aspects at GW, and scheduling flights conflicted with other commitments at school.
“My friends were really good about it, planning stuff for the night I would get back … but I always felt like I had to schedule my classes around it,” she said. “I had to schedule anything else I wanted to do around it, and I never really had Fridays to myself.”
But college became an outlet for Ascrizzi, giving her something else to concentrate on besides the cancer. Ascrizzi majored in geology and will be graduating on May 18 with a 3.9 GPA and departmental honors.
“She’s been one of our better students in decades,” said geology professor Richard Tollo, who has worked with Ascrizzi for two years as her undergraduate and research adviser. “But she’s not showy (about her grades). She could be in a class and the kids would never know she has the highest grade.”
Despite the stresses brought on by dealing with cancer, Ascrizzi said it was her choice to maintain high academic excellence. She said her desire to “learn everything,” not only to get good grades, kept her motivated.
“Throughout our lives we are confronted by choices … The only way to know you are making the right choice is to have all the information,” she said.
Ascrizzi also transferred her energy to others, working in the For Love of Children Neighborhood Tutoring Program at an elementary school in Northwest D.C. She has been tutoring underprivileged children in math and reading since she was a sophomore.
Her passion for learning, along with her experience with FLOC ,helped her realize she wants to become a teacher or principal. She said she would like to teach middle school children in any subject.
Ascrizzi said she sees graduate school in her near future but will not be attending next year. She will spend the summer researching with Tollo. She said she plans to apply to Harvard University this summer for graduate school to study educational development. The program covers topics including individual learning styles, which she learned about while tutoring children.
“This is something that interests me because … schools try to fit kids into a mold, as opposed to realizing that it is learning that is important, no matter how it’s done,” Ascrizzi said.
Tollo said she has the ability to be accepted to any of the country’s top universities for graduate study. He also said her sensitivity to others makes her a natural educator.
“The (best teachers) are the ones who care most about their students and have an area of expertise. She falls into that category,” he said.
While Ascrizzi said she has an idea about her future, questions about her health still remain.
“It’s kind of like, knowing that you can live with it, you do, but it’s still very stressful,” Ascrizzi said. “You don’t know if something’s going to happen or if you’re not going to be able to live with it anymore.”