A little encouragement goes a long way


Samantha Teshima, Managing Editor

Junior Allison Wei, a talented artist who has represented Monte Vista in the Reflections Contest, has a condition called osteogenesis imperfecta, type three.

“That generally means you have very brittle bones,” Wei said. “The average person has 100 percent bone density, while I have about 50 to 60 percent. It’s also referred to as glass-bones disease. Most of the time I’d stay at home because I couldn’t go out with a cast on.”

She has had 32 fractures and 10 surgeries in her lifetime and spent her entire sophomore year unable to walk.

“I drew quite a lot when I was alone at home healing,” Wei said. “I feel as though my scribbles reflect a lot of how I feel.”

English teacher Kimberley Gilles played an important role in Allison’s life beginning sophomore year. This year as a junior, Allison has been accepted into Lesley University in Cambridge, Massachusetts with a full scholarship.

“My English teacher from last year, Ms. Gilles, secretly applied me to a college this year,” Wei said.

The opportunity came when Gilles and her husband Tom Dunlap, were invited to dinner with Mike McCarthy, an admissions officer for Lesley University. Gilles, the year prior, had received high recognition as a Horace Mann Teacher of Excellence, bringing her to the attention of Mr. McCarthy. Mr. McCarthy evaluates student art portfolios for acceptance to Lesley University, associated with the Boston Museum of Art.

“We were having dinner and he mentioned that he had been at San Ramon and had been evaluating art portfolios of seniors for admission to their art program,” Gilles said. “When I found out he was evaluating art portfolios, I just had to put him in contact with Allison.”

At the time, Allison was in need of encouragement. She had fractured her leg again during her sophomore year and was homebound and scheduled for surgery.

“All of a sudden, my head lit up,” Gilles said. “I realized, ‘Here’s an artist who is discouraged, and here is a man who acknowledges art and is looking for new artists’ so Mr. Dunlap was at the dinner table with us and I asked him to drive back to my classroom to get two pieces of Allison’s art.”

Last year, as a student for Gilles, Allison completed many impressive art projects, one of which was an assignment for All Quiet on the Western Front with a response on the back articulating her feelings. Gilles framed two of the pieces that currently decorate the walls of her classroom

Allison Wei is a talented artist. This piece is one of the two that was evaluated for her acceptance to Lesley University. Both artworks are currently displayed in Ms. Gilles' classroom.
Allison Wei is a talented artist. This piece is one of the two that was evaluated for her acceptance to Lesley University. Both artworks are currently displayed in Ms. Gilles’ classroom.

Based on these two pieces, including the writing on the back that expressed Allison’s artistic analysis of the book–since it is important for artists to articulate their feelings in words, not just through the visual aspects of their art–Mr. McCarthy was impressed. He said that she should be an illustrator.

“He reached into his briefcase, he pulled out his papers, he gave his card [and] his signature and, even though she’s a junior, he said, basically this is her ‘get in’ card,” Gilles said.

That night, Ms. Gilles stopped by Allison’s house to deliver the news and acceptance form before Allison went into surgery.

“It came to me as a surprise and I started crying,” Wei said. “I think [Ms. Gilles] saw me as a student who tried [her] best, despite [her] challenges. I was gone for a lot of the school year, so I had to catch up. I’m incredibly thankful and glad I had the opportunity to be one of Ms. Gilles’ students last year. I see Ms. Gilles as a family friend. I feel as though she does look out for me. I find it interesting that she still thought of me a year later [when] I’m not even in her class anymore.”

“I think she gets discouraged and she thinks that with this chronic condition, there is no place in the world for [her], and that’s not true,” Gilles said. “If you have seen her art, she’s extraordinary. And I think that any school of art that gets Allison Wei is lucky. I think [what] I did right was get the inspiration that this man and this girl have a lot in common.”

As it turns out, Allison says that she may not end up attending Lesley University.

“I am so grateful Ms. Gilles has given me this chance to attend this school, but I still want to aim even higher,” she said. “In the future, I want to do something science-related.”

However, it is not attending Lesley University that is important; it is the restored motivation that is most important.

“What was important was that a door opened at a time when she felt like they were all closing,” Gilles said. “I just wanted her to know, early on in the game, the world is waiting for her; she is that good. Here was a man who had never met Allison, doesn’t know her, evaluating art is what he does for a profession, and he said she is good. Allison Wei is extraordinary and I’m not surprised that someone who looks at extraordinary all the time could see it instantaneously when looking at her art–and a very narrow range of what she is capable of. She is awesome. She deserves it.”

Interested in seeing more of Allison’s artwork? She has an art Instagram account. You can find her with her username: _yawn.

     “It’s just like a journal,” Wei said. “I draw however I feel that day. Instead of writing it down and talking about it, I’d rather doodle.”