Citizen Awards 2006
Amelia Bryniarski of Riverside was adopted from an orphanage in Poland when she was 2 years old. In addition to being severely malnourished from the poor living conditions at the orphanage, she also had been born with a cleft lip and palate, a condition which has required multiple facial surgeries that have continued up to this day.

If this wasn’t enough, as a young child Bryniarski was also diagnosed with a slight learning disability. While the recent high school graduate never had to seek help from the special education program during her four years at Riverside-Brookfield High School, her condition did make her regular coursework that much harder to keep up with.

When asked how these unique challenges have affected her, however, Bryniarski shrugs them off as nothing.

“It hasn’t at all, really,” she said.

Throughout her life, it seems, Bryniarski has kept much too busy and involved with the world around her to let any obstacles she may have faced weigh her down.

Her list of extracurricular activities is long. For example, she has been a member of the Girl Scouts since the second grade, and just last month received her Gold Award from the organization. Although many girls drop out of the Scouts by the time they reach high school, Bryniarski said she couldn’t imagine leaving the organization.

“I didn’t want to drop out,” she said. “I would feel bad about leaving something like that.”

Indeed, she shows an obvious dedication to her commitments in all areas. At RB she was involved with the choir program all four years, eventually earning a place in the top-level Chamber Choir. She was also a violinist in the orchestra for two years; she has played the instrument since she was in the first grade. In addition, Bryniarski was a four-year member of Snowball, RB’s anti-drug organization.

Perhaps her most unique activity, and the one that has best prepared her for her ideal life after high school, has been Bryniarski’s involvement in the Brookfield Zoo’s Youth Volunteer Corps. Since joining in recent years, she has logged over 200 hours, giving informational talks about different animals in the zoo. She said she was initially attracted to the program because she had always wanted to go into veterinary medicine, and the Volunteer Corps seemed like the perfect opportunity.

“I’ve always had a connection with animals, although I’ve never had a pet,” she explained, adding that her favorite animals, and the ones she hopes to work with someday, are big cats.

To that end, Bryniarski has wasted no time in starting on the path to her eventual career goal. Three weeks before RB’s graduation, she started the veterinary technician program at Joliet Junior College. Although she’s not yet sure what her next step will be after this two-year program, she hopes to eventually earn a degree in zoology, specializing in zoo medicine and big cats.

While overlapping the end of high school with the beginning of college has taken some of the steam out of her final departure from RB, Bryniarski said she is already enjoying college life, saying that her single introductory course is much more enjoyable than her seven daily classes in the crowded high school.

“It’s going really well,” she said. “I definitely prefer college to high school, because my college campus is so much more of an open space. You’re not stuck in one building all day, going from classroom to classroom. You have the chance to go outside, to walk around between buildings.”

Last book read, not for class:

“It was so many months ago, I don’t remember the exact title. It was a book about big cats.”

Favorite song:

“In My Car I’ll Be the Driver,” by Shania Twain

Most influential person other than parents:

Jennifer Kubeczko, junior at RB, neighbor and friend since the second grade.

Where will you be in 10 years?

“I’ll probably still be working in a vet’s clinic, or hopefully getting my zoology degree. I’ll own my own home, and I’ll have cats and dogs. And maybe a husband, but I’m not sure about that yet.”

How would you creatively spend your lottery winnings?

Bryniarski would like to return to Poland, to see where she comes from. “It’s also one of my dreams to go to the Himalayas and see a real snow leopard.”

One thing you would keep the same (or change) about RB:

“It would be better if they put music and the fine arts at a higher level than sports. It seems like sports are the most important thing at RB sometimes, and I think the fine arts should get more recognition.”