What’s your story: See the able, not the label

Graduation week has arrived for thousands of high school students across Northeast Louisiana, and we're shining the light on one of the many.
Published: May. 9, 2023 at 12:31 PM CDT|Updated: May. 9, 2023 at 12:42 PM CDT
Email This Link
Share on Pinterest
Share on LinkedIn

OUACHITA PARISH, La. (KNOE) - One graduating senior at Ouachita High School has more to celebrate than just a diploma. Every graduate has a story, and in this edition of What’s Your Story, KNOE is shining the light on Hannah Schaitel.

Schaitel has plenty of pomp with unusual circumstances as the big day approaches.

“I cannot believe it is 2023, and I am about to graduate,” Schaitel said.

Schaitel said falling is a fact of life, and she stumbled early and often. However, her first teacher saw something special.

“When she was 16 months old, [everyone] always went on and on, ‘Hannah is smart. She is so smart,’ and I thought, ‘She doesn’t talk,’” said Cindy Schaitel, Hannah’s mother.

This continued until she was six years old, and then something clicked in Hannah.

“When she starts to talk, you will not shut her up,” her mother said.

Hannah has autism, and she refuses to be boxed in by the stereotypes that come with the diagnosis.

“Society says I am autistic, but God says I am perfect,” Hannah said.

When she was a sophomore in high school, Hannah scored a 32 on the ACT. This means she scored higher than 97% of all test takers. On her next try, she made a 34, putting her in the top 1% of test-takers in the country.

Music is something that pulled Hannah in instantly, and it hit just the right note with her. Hannah’s piano teacher, Kathy Cordova, said she has always been amazed at the abilities Hannah has.

“I never treated her as she had a disability,” Cordova said. “She has abilities that no one has.”

Cordova said Hannah has perfect pitch along with her many other talents.

“Her uniqueness makes her so interesting to teach,” Cordova said. “She has so many gifts. As you are teaching her, they evolve and [you can] see them.”

At the 2023 Ouachita Scholarship Banquet, the awards kept piling up for Hannah. In addition to being an all-state choir performer, she is one of the valedictorians at Ouachita High School. After graduation, she is heading to ULM on a full scholarship.

Hannah’s farewell address comes with a powerful message and one big thank you.

“My mom saw through my autism, and so [did] my dad,” Hannah said. “They are my tour guides through life. I could not thank them enough.”