Editor’s Note: This is one in a series of stories highlighting Concordia’s 2018 graduates.
Determined to help her sister find her voice and purpose in the world, Anna Loest will be one step closer to her calling when she walks across the commencement stage on Saturday, May 18, as Concordia University Wisconsin’s first and sole graduate of the Communications Sciences & Disorders program.
For Loest, this day will not only mark her achievements as an honors student within the Department of Speech-Language Pathology, but, more importantly, it will honor her younger sister, Abby, and all of the caregivers who have been part of her family’s life for over two decades.
“Ever since I was a little girl. I wanted to work in health care,” says Loest. “I was able to witness the dramatic impact that therapists had in my own sister’s life, and how their success made such a positive difference in the lives of everyone in my family.”
Loest and her four siblings grew up in a close, Christian home in Frankenmuth, Michigan. Her father, Rev. Mark A. Loest, is the pastor at Immanuel Lutheran Church in nearby Frankentrost. While they were all encouraged to get involved in activities and pursue their passions, for Loest, her biggest passion was right there under the same roof – her younger sister Abby.
Abby was born with Sotos Syndrome, a rare genetic disorder characterized by a distinctive facial appearance and cognitive, physical, and behavioral disabilities. Loest describes her 21-year-old sister as functioning at a three-year-old level.
While there are many challenges with having a family member afflicted with this condition, Loest is proud of the fact that Abby, through the help of therapists, is able to communicate in her own way and that the family has learned to adapt. Loest refers to this as “Abby Speak” and shares that they have all learned to recognize and respond to the different words and sounds her sister makes.
Loest thought she wanted to become a physical therapist and chose to attend Concordia University to pursue a degree in health sciences. During her sophomore year, the university announced the addition of the speech disorders program and Anna was the first to enroll. She credits her professors for going out of their way to help her graduate in four years despite changing majors.
“Anna is an engaged and talented student who embodies the CUW mission of serving Christ, the Church and the world,” said Dr. Richard McGuire, chair of the Department of Speech-Language Pathology. “Her leadership in our department and on campus will be noticeably missed as she continues on her journey to a career in speech-language pathology.”
Upon graduation, Loest will return to Michigan and begin her graduate studies at Eastern Michigan University in the fall. In the future, Loest hopes to work in a medical facility, but will remain focused on helping to teach people to learn to speak “so that they may someday talk about Christ.”
— Eugene Pitchford III is Assistant Professor of Education and advisor of the Black Student Union.
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