The 2019 Scholarship Winner

Tanner Geng - 2019 Sure Oak Scholarship WinnerTanner Geng

University of Central Florida

Award:  $1,000

August 1, 2019

The Sure Oak team is pleased to announce Tanner Geng as the winner of The 2019 Sure Oak Scholarship for $1,000. Tanner, who attends the University of Central Florida, was selected from a pool of 500 candidates. Candidates had to craft and submit an essay detailing how their university will put them on track to achieving their goals.

Tanner wrote a moving essay elaborating his journey in education with a neurological disability. In his essay, Tanner highlights his incredible tenacity for life and numerous achievements he’s earned.

Tanner is currently attending the University of Central Florida as a law student.

Congratulations, Tanner!

Tanner’s Winning Essay

Growing up with a disability has provided me both strength and vision to become a special education attorney to help others like me. From as long as I can recall my life has had adversity due to apraxia, a neurological condition that for years trapped me in silence and robbed me of my ability to speak. I would know exactly what I wanted to say and would desperately want to be able to say it, but as much as I tried before speech therapy all that would come out was the sound “mmm”.

I know this because my story has been on various TV shows including Inside Edition and PBS and two books including The Late Talker, and The LCP Solution. In the book The LCP Solution by Dr. Stordy, she explains how severe my speech impairment was. “With speech therapy, Tanner had learned to say basic sounds such as “sh,” “ch,” “t,” and “s” with some prompting…but he found it impossible to take the “ch” sound and put it together with the “oo” sound to make “choo.” As soon as I was old enough to understand my parents asked my permission about sharing my story online. I have always felt strongly about sharing my story online so that I can help others like myself and my entire childhood up to graduation has been documented now in two documentaries the most recent being Late Talkers.

I was fortunate in that early on I was provided so much support by my parents who would inspire me with stories about people like Helen Keller who went from not being able to speak to saying, “Character cannot be developed in ease and quiet. Only through experience of trial and suffering can the soul be strengthened, ambition inspired, and success achieved.” That quote both inspires and resonates with me and is perhaps why I have an inner strength when it comes to my academics and my goals.

The public school told my mother I couldn’t make it in kindergarten. My mother advocated which provided me the opportunity to be schooled in the mainstream where I rose to become one of the top students from kindergarten, and by middle school advanced to honors. I worked hard on academics and speech because I experienced some would assume if I wasn’t able to speak, I couldn’t understand what they were saying about me.

I chose the University of Central Florida because several people recommended this university to me as a great place to get my undergraduate degree and from my searching online there are a number of special education law firms I can potentially intern at while in school.

I currently work as an unpaid intern at the law firm Capobianco and Stone where I assist in everything from court documents to jury selection. When not interning, I work part-time up to 32 hours a week at Panera to help fund my studies. I have been volunteering through the nonprofit Cherab Foundation as long as I can recall speaking to both parents and others like myself who are diagnosed with special needs to provide support, guidance, friendship, and hope. My volunteer duties are directed specifically to outreach support, the proactive anti-bullying initiative which fosters acceptance and compassion for those with differences, and as one of the online support group moderators for YADA, the teen and young adult support initiative of the foundation. Volunteering made me aware I can help more as a special education attorney. It also made me aware that by finding my voice I inspire others there is hope for them and their child too.

Within five years I see myself graduated from law school and working full time at a special education firm in the Orlando area, potentially ones of the firms I’ll be interning at once I’m a full-time UCF student. I plan to get there by doing what I have been doing all my life, working hard and giving everything, I have got to make things happen. My one uncle is a partner in a maritime law firm in NYC and he’s one of my mentors that have taught me the importance of punctuality, professionalism, diligence, and hard work for achieving your goals. Hard work is important but without education, I can’t achieve my goals.

Neither of my parents graduated from college and while they work very hard and struggle to help me it’s tough for them. Seeing firsthand how difficult it is to get a good job without a college degree has taught me the value of higher education.

I don’t take for granted where I am today and appreciate any opportunity provided to me. If I was awarded a scholarship, I will use it to provide special-needs students like myself the opportunity to also achieve their goals. I’m determined to complete my UCF education, complete law school, and become a special education attorney. Please provide me this scholarship so I can pay it forward as a special-education attorney to be the voice of special-needs students until, like me, they can speak for themselves.

I’ve been interviewed numerous times. This was an interview for the special needs publication Kids Enabled I did when I was 15 years old which was featured on the magazine cover where I am pictured with my mom. My mom did so much to help me when I was little and part of the reason why I want to be that voice to help others the way she helped me when I couldn’t speak for myself.

One of my proudest moments was winning second place at my first debate tournament. I was so nervous because public speaking was a huge fear due to my apraxia, and the more stressed I am typically the more likely my speech would break down. However, I knew I had to take debate and conquer it if I want to be a special education attorney.

My older brother Dakota (photo above) is one of my best friends. He too grew up with special needs and overcame so much and perhaps that’s why he’s one of my biggest inspirations too. We have a close family and like to go to Disney together when we have a chance. My family supports me no matter what I do, but I believe my ambition comes from my background of always having to push myself when those outside my family didn’t have belief in me.

We have a close family and like to go to Disney together when we have a chance. My family supports me no matter what I do, but I believe my ambition comes from my background of always having to push myself when those outside my family didn’t have belief in me.

One of the numerous photos of me online as a young child as my story has been shared in the special needs community all over the internet. “The Lellow Breakthrough” was a chapter about me in Dr. Stordy’s book The LCP Solution.