Magdalena “Maggie” Augustine already knows what she wants, even if the avenue to get there is unclear.
What is clear, however, is that her recently awarded college scholarship will go a long way toward accomplishing her goals.
“I want to be happy and I want to change the world for the better,” she said. “If I can do those two things in my lifetime, I’ve done well.”
Augustine, a soon-to-be freshman at the University of Texas at Austin who graduated from Fort Bend ISD’s Austin High School in June, was one of nine students from across the country recently selected to be part of Ortho Dermatologics’ Aspire Higher scholarship program, which recognizes students who are also living with dermatologic conditions.
The Aspire Higher scholarship program began in 2012 and has awarded $738,000 over the years to more than 50 students, supporting their higher education dreams. Augustine has been managing psoriasis, a skin disease marked by red, itchy, scaly patches on the skin, while maintaining school and extracurricular activities such as theatre and social justice activism at Austin over the last two years.
“I’ve gone through the process of tackling a chronic disease and fighting to accept myself with a skin condition,” she said. “Throughout this process, the support of individuals and organizations like the Aspire Higher scholarship program have made that fight so much easier.”
Students were chosen from more than 200 applications and selected in part due to their essays describing the impact of their dermatologic condition and the role that a dermatologist, physician’s assistant or nurse practitioner played in helping to treat their condition.
“College and graduate school are already incredibly challenging and demanding endeavors, and living with a skin condition adds to the physical and emotional burden a student must face,” Ortho Dermatologics president Bill Humphries said in a news release. “It’s inspiring to hear the stories of students who are pursuing their higher education goals.”
For Augustine, that person was Dr. Alanna Bree with Children’s House Dermatology in Houston. Augustine praised Bree for discovering her condition.
Augustine said the patches first appeared during her freshman year at Austin. And at first, the solution – or so she thought – was to wear her hair down, put some lotion on the bumps and leave it be. Eventually, however, the bumps grew from the back of her neck to covering her body head-to-toe.
Augustine said she initially struggled to accept herself with the skin condition, even before she knew what it was.
“I look back, and nobody ever said anything – it just kind of didn’t really exist to my friends or people at school. But for me it was so apparent (in my head) that they thought I was gross and I looked horrible, without them saying anything,” she said. “It was difficult to realize at the time that I was the person thinking it – not them. So I had to move forward from that and understand what I can do to relieve that internal pressure.”
As a result, Augustine said she believed she could ignore the condition in a sense by throwing herself into her schoolwork. But after seeing five different doctors over the course of the next year-and-a-half, she said Bree finally gave her a name for what she faced at the end of her sophomore year.
In that moment, a new hope was born.
“She immediately looked at me and told me she knew what I had,” Augustine said. “That was an amazing moment.”
Augustine participated in theatre all four years at Austin, and has also branched out into social justice activism via online magazines and school opinion pieces. She said she has also been more outgoing with both family and friends and has gained more confidence.
Academics remain a focus but now come with a healthier personal mindset since the diagnosis, according to Augustine.
“I could start to balance my life with it now. I initially thought if I was so smart, people wouldn’t care what I looked like,” she said. “At some point I realized that I can be smart and love learning, but it doesn’t have to be because of the psoriasis. That’s what really helped me move forward and become happier with myself.”
With the scholarship money, Augustine is enrolled in a liberal arts honors program at UT-Austin as she ponders her career path – which could potentially follow a path toward social justice, film, creative writing or something else entirely.
Wherever she winds up, Augustine won’t forget who helped her get there.
“(This scholarship) gave me more freedom to figure out what I wanted to do. It gave me a lot of weight off my shoulders as to what I can spend my time looking at that needs to be solved,” she said. “And I’ll be forever grateful for that.”