Shonda Schilling Shares Experiences at S.E.M.A.S.C.

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Shonda Schilling speaks to a crowd of 550 at S.E.M.A.S.C.

Karalyn Kickham

Shonda Schilling speaks to a crowd of 550 at S.E.M.A.S.C.

Everyone has heard the hackneyed cliches “Things aren’t always what they seem to be” and “There’s more than meets the eye,” yet despite the general knowledge that people are more than what is seen on the surface, false stereotypes still emerge in the media to criticize celebrities. Mrs. Shonda Schilling, wife of retired baseball player Mr. Curt Schilling, has had to deal with incorrect stereotypes of being a typical “Baseball Wife,” which comes with assumptions of wealth and a worry-free lifestyle.  The media believed that Mrs. Schilling lived the easy life–that is, until she revealed her life-changing experiences and published her book, “The Best Kind of Different.”

Walpole High School Student Council hosted the South Eastern Massachusetts Association of Student Councils (S.E.M.A.S.C.) conference for the first time on Friday, October 26.  WHS Student Council invited Mrs. Schilling to be a guest speaker at this conference for 33 Student Councils from schools throughout Southeastern Massachusetts.  In front of a crowd of 550 high school students and their advisors, Mrs. Schilling shared her story and experiences of her ongoing battle of stage 2 malignant melanoma; her son, Grant, who has Asperger’s; and her book, “The Best Kind of Different.”
Mrs. Schilling began her speech with a few words of wisdom that set the tone for the entire presentation: “What we do for ourselves dies with us; what we do for others lives on.”  She then went on to share her personal experiences with ALS and the importance of giving back.  One of the first things Mrs. Schilling mentioned was a charity for ALS that she took part in while her husband played for the Phillies in the 1990s.  The baseball players took the day off to work in concession stands and sign autographs for fans, while the players’ wives held up auction items for fans to bid on.  Now, this event raises over $1 million.
Mr. and Mrs. Schilling named their first child Gherig, after famous baseball player Lou Gherig who had been diagnosed with ALS.  The name was a tribute to the patients who allowed the Schillings to be a part of their lives.  Also in support of ALS patients, Mr. Schilling wrote “K ALS,” meaning “strike out ALS,” on his shoe so that the patients watching his baseball games on TV knew that there was someone out there fighting for them and supporting them.  Mrs. Schilling said in her speech, “We have a voice.  We have a chance to make a difference,” and that is why it is such a big deal to her to give back, simply because she can.
Continuing her story, Mrs. Schilling moved on to speak about one of the harder times in her life.  When her husband was traded to the Diamondbacks, the family moved to Arizona.  Shortly after, she discovered that she had a cancer on her back.  Not considering it to be too much of a big deal, Shonda had the cancer removed and was told by her doctor that the results would be revealed in in about 10 days.  She was then surprised the next day when she got a phone call from the doctor requesting to see her that morning.  The doctor then revealed to her that she had stage 2 malignant melanoma, and she realized how big of an issue skin cancer really is.  Mrs. Schilling went through five surgeries, with more than 25 spots taken off of her body.
Mrs. Schilling kept the story private for a while, but it inevitably was revealed after the 2001 World Series.  The Diamondbacks beat the Yankees, so of course all eyes were on the Schilling family after Curt’s success. With the media focusing attention on the Schilling’s, Mrs. Schilling’s cancer story hit the news, and she agreed to a human interest story with ESPN.  Mrs. Schilling recalled to the audience that the woman interviewing her felt very little sympathy towards her and her battle with skin cancer.  Like others, she thought Shonda lived an easy life as a baseball wife.  Due to the hostility, Mrs. Schilling then refused to do the interview unless photos would be shown of what her back actually looked like after all of her surgeries.  She believed that she helped some people begin to take skin cancer more seriously after they saw the effect it had on her.
After her trouble with skin cancer, Mrs. Schilling started the Shade Foundation in 2002.  Her kids had no shade coverings at recess at school in Arizona, where the temperature often would reach around 110 degrees.  Mrs. Schilling said, “I couldn’t live with just helping my kids, I had to help others.”  It became a priority to help the kids at school to be better protected from the damage that could be done by the sun.
Five years later, in 2007, Mrs. Schilling began to notice that something was a little off with her middle son, Grant.  She brought him to the doctor and discovered that Grant had autism.  With a personal connection to autism, Mrs. Schilling found even more reason to continue to give back.  She began to speak to crowds after noticing the ways her son was treated differently than the other kids.  Grant was never put onto the same baseball team as the other boys, nor was he invited to many places outside of school, and Mrs. Schilling wanted people to realize that Grant–along with other kids with autism– is very similar to any other child.  Mrs. Schilling reflected on a memory she has of the 2007 World Series.  Grant hated loud noises, commotion, and the ball parks, so Mrs. Schilling kept him in the back until the ninth inning of the game.  Expecting him to freak out, she explained to her son what would happen after his dad got the third out to win the game.  To her surprise, when the fans were loud and there were fireworks and chaos, Grant was among the most excited and enthusiastic fans in the ball park. Mrs. Schilling began speaking to let others know that kids with autism are not completely different from kids without it, they are just special in their own way.  Mrs. Schilling said, “(Grant) has the gift not to feel uncomfortable, and to be able to take that step forward.”
After Grant’s diagnosis, Mrs. Schilling felt sad for yelling at Grant in circumstances where he did not know better, and from her guilt for not recognizing the issue she wrote a speech.  The speech was sent to HarperCollins publishing, where they told her to write a book.  Mrs. Schilling wrote her book, “The Best Kind of Different,” in just two months, and it peaked at number three on Amazon.  She made it clear that she did not write the book for the attention, but rather to give her son the dignity he deserved.  Mrs. Schilling said, “There is no perfect family; there is no perfect child; there is no perfect mother.”  After her book came out, Mrs. Schilling began to tour and was able to connect with several families in the same situation and spread her message about the importance of giving back.  Through touring, Shonda helped herself and other to feel like they are not alone.
When Mrs. Schilling finished her speech, the audience thanked her with a standing ovation and some watering eyes.  Throughout the entire presentation, the auditorium was silent, captivated by Mrs. Schilling’s heart-wrenching story, with the exception of a few laughs here and there when she would recall funny experiences.  Students were intrigued by what Mrs. Schilling had to say and several approached her afterwards for a picture and a small chat.  WHS Student Council member Annie Gallivan said, “Shonda did a great job of conveying her message to the audience.  I really enjoyed it and I think everyone else did too. We were lucky to have her here.”
Part of what made Mrs. Schilling’s presentation so effective was the body language with which she presented.  She spoke with nothing but a slideshow of a few pictures of her family playing in the background.  She had no notes at all–she only spoke from the heart.  Mrs. Schilling told every detail of her story with confidence, and it was evident that she is proud of where her journey has taken her.  Mrs. Schilling’s confidence certainly played a role in making a lasting impression on anyone who was in the audience, and she was able to send the audience home with her most important message: “What we do for ourselves dies with us.  What we do for others lives on.”