Monday, August 3, 2015

We Have a Scholarship Winner!!

April 2nd of last year was the first time I publicly shared my desire to help siblings of addicts. In a blog post I wrote:

"I'd love to start a foundation to provide financial assistance to younger siblings of addicts. They are innocent victims in the clusterf*ck that is addiction. Their older brother or sister is afflicted with a disease, their parents do all they can to help fight the disease, and the younger sibling gets stuck with the short end of the stick. How wonderful would it be if there was a place for these kids to go to get some help with college tuition or other things?"

Well, I haven't been able to start a foundation (yet), but I was able to come up with a scholarship contest that addressed the college tuition issue.

Thanks to the generosity of several people, my first essay contest for college students who have been affected by a sibling's addiction was able to award a $1,200.00 scholarship to the first-place winner; and a $500.00 scholarship to the runner-up. (Thanks again to actress Kristen Johnston and her SLAM charity for making our runner-up prize possible!)

We had a total of 30 entries from all over the United States, and all of the essays were outstanding. (To everyone who entered this contest: I wish I had a big room full of money so I could help all of you pay your tuition. You are all amazing human beings who are destined for great things. I just know it.) Picking a winner was agonizingly difficult, and I am incredibly grateful for the time and effort the judges put in to help me with that task. To them--Kathy, Josh, Kristen, Jeanne, Hannah, Munchie, Jillian, and Cathy--I say, "Thank you, thank you, THANK YOU!"

Now... Can I get a drum roll, please?

Congratulations to Ryan Gruchala of Colden, New York. He is the winner of the first My Life as 3D Scholarship Essay Contest! Ryan will receive $1,200.00 to help pay his college tuition this fall at the University of Dayton in Dayton, Ohio, where he will study education.

Congratulations are also in order for our runner-up: Luke Moran of Wilmington, Delaware. He will get $500.00 to help offset the cost of his tuition at the University of Delaware this fall. Luke will study computer science.

So, without further ado...

It is with great pleasure that I present to you the winning essay in the first My Life as 3D College Scholarship Essay Contest. (And be on the lookout for the runner-up essay, which will be posted here later this week.)

Will We Be Able to Move on from This?

By Ryan Guchala

On the car-ride home from the hospital, my mother said through her tears, "Will we ever be able to move on from this?" It was a question that lingers to this day.

March 2013 promised to be one of the best times of my life; however, this promise quickly vanished on the night of February 28, 2013. That night, I went through hell, and I learned the next morning that my journey was far from over. I felt disoriented, angry, and guilty. I could feel the tears coming at any moment. That was the night my brother passed away.

Prior to that horrible night, I planned to tour Europe on a school-sponsored educational field trip, but afterward, a shadow loomed over me. At the age of 16, I experienced something that would forever change my outlook on life. My brother was, and still is, a major influence in my life. I am constantly reminded of his passing in an ongoing emotional battle. During the months immediately following his passing, I was the physical and mental equivalent of a blank piece of paper. My skin was sickly white and my thoughts were foggy and deluded. Every morning I looked into the mirror and felt his gaze upon me. As brothers, we are similar in physical appearance. This similarity is a daily reminder of his absence. Yet even before his death, his addiction had lasting effects on my entire family.

Addiction is not cheap, and my brother was constantly asking for money, sometimes just stealing it out of my wallet. I began to hide money and anything of substantial value to ensure he did not steal from me. He stole money from my parents as well, which often led to loud arguments. These arguments occurred at the most inopportune times, while I was trying to study for school or during other important activities. He was arrested a few times, and he overdosed on three separate occasions. After one of his arrests, he hugged me and said, "You must hate me." I reassured him by saying, "Of course I don't hate you," which was true, despite all he had done. Even though he was the source and cause of tremendous turmoil, anger, and hate, he was still my brother, and I still loved him dearly. I find it funny how families work that way. At first we felt guilty, believing we had not done enough, even though we always tried to help him, and he tried to help himself. The simple reality was that none of our efforts or his ever enabled him to break his addiction.

It is important to point out that my brother's death and addiction were the most significant series of events in my life, but it is not what truly defines me. There is now a great deal of pressure on my shoulders to do well, because my brother failed, but I have accepted the challenge. It was easily the worst thing that ever happened to me, but once I pushed the elephant off my chest, I saw life through a new lens. It gave me a newfound empathy, gentleness, and appreciation for the world around me.

Before, I was the stereotypical high school student, just going through the motions, sticking to what I knew best. My focus was on short-term happiness and looking forward to the weekends. However, after my brother's death, I became inspired to embrace what was unique about me. I auditioned for the Saint Francis High School Senior Scholar Cantorum, a choral group and class offered at my high school in Athol Springs, New York. The group consists of elite vocalists from the school. In our family, singing is one of our passions, and when I saw my name on the accepted list a couple weeks after tryouts, I was beyond thrilled.

I also began to play piano again, another of our family's passions. In grade school, I despised piano lessons. I was bored by classical tunes that seemed to drag on without purpose, so I stopped playing in high school. When I finally returned to the piano, I discovered something new that was missing during my earlier years playing the instrument: the music soothed the pain. Every note I played stored some small memory of my brother just begging to be lifted by the touch of my hands. In addition, I witnessed a surprising increase in my school spirit. I began to fill the empty space opened by the loss of my brother with as many school-sponsored events as possible; from football games, to concerts, to open houses, to being as active on campus as possible. This was a marked improvement over my previous practice of spending the vast majority of my leisure time alone in my room.

From then on, I tried to go out with friends as much as possible. In a way, I subconsciously surrounded myself with an amazing support group of about ten friends. When people asked me how I got through it and kept myself so strong, I would always give them the credit. I also owe my girlfriend, Grace, a lot of credit as well. Grace and I have dated for a year and a half now, and she always supports me, recognizing and understanding the emotional toll that losing a sibling takes on a person. She attends all the remembrance masses and always provides a guiding light in my life. It is important to have people help us carry our burdens, because no one should ever have to carry these alone. Through this experience, I learned to take everything I do more seriously, and I especially thank my mother and father every day for the opportunities they provide.

Looking forward, I am not certain what the future holds for me. I plan to study education at the University of Dayton in the fall. As is most likely true for many high school graduates, I am ready to move on and eventually settle down somewhere with a career that provides personal and professional satisfaction. Through personal achievements like this, and by dedicating the rest of my life to helping other people, I hope to not only honor my brother, but also to prove to myself that I can overcome such a tragedy.

I discovered who I am by growing up in my own way, embracing my brother’s death, rather than letting it control me. My brother had a positive and profound impact on the lives of so many people. Despite the hardships brought by his death, my only hope is that I can impact the lives of those around me in a similar way.

Ryan Gruchala


  1. Wonderful! Congratulations to Ryan. What a beautiful thing to come out of such a tragedy. I wish him and his family well.


  2. You have just impacted many in a positive way by this essay. You have great courage
    by sharing. Congratulations.

  3. Beautiful, congratulations to Ryan for writing such a wonderful essay and speaking so eloquently about his brother and how he plans to make his family proud! Congrats to you as well Dean for creating this scholarship; as the sibling of addicts/alcoholics and one who lost my brother to alcoholism, we really appreciate you thinking of us, as we are often forgotten. Here's to all the siblings of addicts out there, may we all continue to rise!

  4. Great work here Dean on the essay contest. Ryan wrote a wonderful essay and it's so wonderful to know that he is taking his experience and using it in a positive way. Thanks for all the great work that you are doing.

  5. Congratulations and best wishes for a bright future. When tragedy strikes, we can let it destroy us...or make us stronger. I'm so glad you found the strength!