Milka Yohannes is a senior at Allen High School. She plays trumpet in the marching band, serves on the school’s newspaper staff, takes Dual Credit courses and is a member of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes. She wanted to add even more to her plate by taking AP courses and joining an additional student leadership group, but there just was no room in her extremely busy schedule. She does all of this – and is legally blind .
Milka had a very rare infantile glaucoma in the womb. When she was just two days old , Dr. David Godfrey of Glaucoma Associates of Texas, had to inform her recently emigrated parents, who spoke no English, that Milka required surgery for glaucoma on both of her eyes. During surgery, Dr. Godfrey found her normal drainage system was not formed correctly and she required Baerveldt drainage implants in both eyes. She went on to have multiple surgeries, including corneal transplants. Through age 9, she had partial vision, but ultimately suffered some infections that took her vision away permanently. Now at age 18, Milka cannot see from her right eye at all and can only sense changes in light from her left eye . This is similar to the sensation you get going from inside to outdoors.
When Milka was a freshman, she was in band and played in the “Reserve Block” which is a group of band members who play from the sideline because they may have marching or musical skills that need improvement. The band leadership was reluctant to allow her to march for safety reasons. As the year progressed, Milka knew that she wanted to be on the field marching and worked as hard as she could to accomplish her goal.
Throughout her sophomore year, Milka continued to work hard and felt the need to show band leadership what she could do. That December, she tried out for All-Region band and was one of only seven trumpet players (there are typically more than 90 trumpet players at the school!) from the Allen Eagle Band who made the cut. She was the only one of those seven who was not currently in marching group. In the spring of her sophomore year, she was selected for the Wind Ensemble for her junior year, so she knew her musical talent was quite good.
She calls her junior year her “wow” year because she wowed everyone around her! Milka relied on two student volunteers from the Peer Assistance Leadership (PAL) group to march with her and guide her through the maze of field marching by placing their hands on her shoulders from behind to keep her lined up properly. At one point during a Monday night rehearsal early in the school year, Milka’s PALS became distracted, and it was time to march. Milka did not wait for a PAL, she just went! She marched the drill perfectly and received accolades and praise from the band director. He pointed out to other band members that she was a great example of hard work and determination. She was immediately moved from the Reserve Block (now known as Tier 4) to Tier 3 marching! (By her junior year, band members were all assigned to one of four tiers.)
You can probably guess that by her senior year, Milka was selected to play and march in the Tier 1 group. She had fought hard, worked every day, practiced and accomplished her goal.
She wishes that everyone had the mindset to realize she can do things that others can do. When Milka encounters someone with doubts, she just shows them she can do it . Sharing her story lets others know not to let someone’s words or thoughts get you down – just keep going.
One time, during a band competition, Milka encountered a very excited mom who was there to watch her child perform with another band. The mom asked Milka, “Are you visually impaired?” and Milka confirmed that she was. The emotional mom told Milka that her 6 th grade daughter at home wanted to be in the band and played trumpet too. Milka was now providing inspiration to others who might not think they can succeed.
In the fall of 2020, Milka plans to attend Collin College. She will complete some basic courses there and set her sights on joining a band at a university. She is interested in journalism and both neurology and environmental research sciences. We would not be surprised if she filled her plate with all three as she continues to create her own overture for her life!