FRANKLIN – The rights of people with disabilities are human rights, and as long as Paris Arffa has been her own self-advocate, she has stood up for others.
“Being an empath is really important to me and understanding people, making sure they are comfortable and feel loved and welcomed,” said Arffa, 18.
Whenever someone comes to her house, she shows her love by cooking, even if it physically crushes her for the rest of the day.
When she was 15 months old, she was diagnosed with cerebral palsy, a group of disorders affecting muscle tone, movement and motor skills. Her symptoms include tight muscles and chronic pain that makes her tire easily, so she usually uses a power wheelchair to get around.
Each year at Franklin High School, she gave a presentation to teachers on disability, how it affects her daily life and how they can support students like her.
“Sometimes looking and seeing isn’t enough – it’s about looking and understanding,” she said.
Advocating for the rights of people with disabilities is an extension of Arffa’s passion for protecting human rights and promoting equality, and after graduating from Franklin High School on Friday with 450 of his peers, she plans to continue doing just that.
Born to take on the lead role
Arffa has lived in Franklin since the age of 2 and has been performing in the theater since the age of 3.
“My mom tells me I’ve always been a lively little girl,” she says.
For the past six years she has participated in theater programs at the Mansfield YMCA and in her sophomore year landed a starring role in “The Drowsy Chaperone”.
A month before the auditions, Arffa underwent intense surgery, but still showed up in person to try. She had to build up her stamina to withstand the pain, she said, and during the live performance in March 2019, she performed standing.
“It was definitely a big moment for me,” she said, and even wrote about the experience for her college essay. From that moment in the spotlight to all previous times, there was also someone behind the scenes to help her shine – her mother, Tisha.
“I feel like I am eating the fruits of my mother’s labor because she has worked so incredibly hard so that I can be a functional human being and be able to thrive no matter how many setbacks I have encountered.” , said Arffa.
Throughout high school, Arffa took specialization and advanced level classes and began doing mock testing in her freshman year, which was the first year she could participate without medical interruption, she said. declared.
Arffa is one of the most notable college students that Franklin High counselor Trish Gardener has said she has worked with. She had a lasting positive impact on everyone there, especially teachers and administrators, Gardener said.
“She (Arffa) is witty, opinionated and displays a maturity far beyond her peers,” Gardener said. “She’s a student who sees beyond herself, often asks me how I’m doing and engages in a conversation beyond her own needs. Paris amazes me how involved and how she is. balances all of her demands while managing her pain. ”
“I would call her a leader,” said Katie Giles, another school counselor. “She has done a lot to educate others. It really is a treat for anyone who gets to know her because she is as cool as a kid. “
This fall, Arffa will be attending UMass Amherst and plans to study psychology, with a particular interest in forensic psychology.
“If it’s not too ambitious, I want to get a PhD,” she said. She is also grateful to the teachers she had over the four years at Franklin High School.
“They will help you do whatever it takes, whatever it takes,” she said. “Make it bold, underline, and italics. ”