Extraordinary seniors: Juliana Brisco

Juliana Brisco, who loves to belt out Broadway Juliana Brisco, who loves to belt out Broadway show tunes, sings alto in two choirs at school despite breathing difficulties associated with cerebral palsy. She said she hopes to inspire others to love music as much as she does. (May 26, 2012) Photo Credit: Daniel Brennan

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As soft-spoken as Juliana Brisco is, her wispy voice belies her willpower and determination.

And that same voice loves to belt out Broadway show tunes, especially from her favorite musical, "Wicked." Brisco, 18, sings alto in two choirs at Eastport-South Manor Junior-Senior High School in Manorville.

Scholarships in tow, the honors student with a 3.75 GPA is headed to Adelphi University in Garden City, where she intends to study music education. Brisco said she hopes to inspire the next generation to love music as much as she does.

"It's really a good atmosphere," she said of why she loves her choir classes. "It's a very enjoyable experience."

When Brisco and her twin sister, Brittany, were born, each was diagnosed with cerebral palsy, a movement disorder that impairs brain and nervous system functions.

Brittany's condition is severe -- she has multiple disabilities and is not fully verbal. The twins are close friends, and Brisco said she'll miss her sister the most when she heads to college.

Brisco, of Mastic, had to be strong from a very young age. She started walking when she was 3 years old, with the aid of leg braces.

"She took her first steps on Christmas," said her mother, Linda Brisco.

She moved on to a walker, then canes. By the time she was 7, Brisco was walking unassisted and has done so since. That's no surprise to her mother, who says Brisco is "a go-getter."

But getting around her school is especially difficult because the building spans 350,000 square feet, guidance coordinator Christine Duffy said.

"I get tired very easily," Brisco said. "I can't stand for a long time. It's difficult with my choirs because I have to sit occasionally. It's a challenge to get up the stairs because I have to hold on to the railings."

Still, she eschews the elevator and walks to every class on her own.

Her perseverance has inspired scores of her classmates and even the faculty, her theater teacher, Joseph Minutillo, said.

"She has never, ever let her disability get in the way of her work, and she's just been a hero to everybody in the class," he said.

Besides belting out songs in choir, Brisco recently reached her latest high school high point -- making her acting debut in the school's senior showcase in May. She is also involved in the Green Team environmental club and the Key Club. This year, she was historian of the music honor society Tri-M. And as a member of the National Honor Society, she helped create a day for her school focused on disability awareness.

Brisco is excited for her college career to start, and was recently placed on a waitlist for a companion dog that will go to school with her.

"She can't wait. It's going to be so different for her," her mother said. "I've always looked out for her, but now I've got to let her go."

When Brisco arrives, one of the first things she plans to do is join the choir.

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