Justine Green

Alumna learns to live, and thrive, with disability

By Nastasia Boulos

Alumna learns to live, and thrive, with disability

By Nastasia Boulos
Alumna Justine Green used her experience growing up with a disability as motivation to succeed.

Growing up, Justine Green, B.S.Ed. ’13, Ed.D. ’19, knew she was different. Her “special ear,” as her family called it, was the result of two congenital conditions, microtia and atresia, which left her deaf in one ear and led to multiple reconstructive surgeries at a young age.

But Green didn’t let her disability, or the challenges that came along with it, slow her down. Instead, she used her experience as motivation to work harder – as a high school student and athlete, as a student at the University of Miami, and now, as principal of Tamim Academy in Boca Raton, Florida. She recently published a children’s book, Completely Me, in which she shares her story of living with a disability.

We spoke to the mother of two about her new book, her disability, and her time at the U.

First off, how are you doing?

I’m doing well, thank you! I try to take it day by day and make the most of every situation.

What was your experience like growing up with atresia and microtia?

I always knew I was different and that I had a special ear. I would always sit with my right side facing the teacher and I was in and out of doctors’ offices often. I had three reconstructive surgeries when I was seven to nine years old. I was bullied. I was called names, and someone even screamed in horror and ran away from me when I showed them my ear. I was also a good student, a great athlete, and I was like every other kid my age. I have great memories of my childhood that are similar to many people’s experiences, but I also remember the tough times. I never let my disability slow me down; instead, I learned how to work with it and be proud of who I am.

Why did you choose to pursue a career in education?

I chose this career path because I was always drawn to children and they have always been drawn to me. I used to be a mother’s helper after school, and I babysat all throughout high school. When I got to college, I switched my major so many times it was exhausting, until I finally decided to try out education so that I could be the best mom possible one day. The first semester I switched into education was my first semester with a 4.0 GPA. Something clicked instantly. I was meant to work in education, and also, being a person with disabilities, it was only through my own self-acceptance that I could become an advocate for others.

What inspired you to write Completely Me?

I needed a story like this growing up, so if writing Completely Me helps even one person, it was worth it. This is a story of self-acceptance, strength, and vulnerability. I always wanted to write a book about my ear and my disability. I have also written poetry my whole life. By the time I actually sat down to write the story, it came together quickly! I wanted to explain, in a way that children can understand, that I never noticed anything was wrong with my ear until everyone treated me differently because of it. It’s easy for others to point out the differences they see, but I would not have known otherwise.

What was your experience at the University of Miami like? How did the U contribute to your success?

I am a ’Cane and proud of it. I received my B.S.Ed. in elementary and special education in 2013 and my Ed.D. in higher education leadership in 2019. I met my husband at a pregame before going out to the Grove! We even have a love brick in front of the Wellness Center. I was also a vice president of Delta Gamma, president of Rho Lambda, a learning specialist at the Camner Center, and more. My time at the University of Miami helped shape my future; it taught me how to be a citizen of the world and stand up for what I believe in. I became aware of who I really am and what I’m capable of doing. I can help make the world a better place.

Todd, my husband, received his B.B.A. in entrepreneurship and his J.D. from the law school. We’re both double ’Canes!

What did becoming principal of Tamim Academy represent to you?

Becoming principal of Tamim Academy has been a dream come true for me. I am honored to have this position. It’s a good problem to have when you need to dream up bigger dreams!

What advice would you give to other young people with disabilities?

You are perfect. Don’t let anyone else tell you what you are missing; you are whole just the way you are. Once you learn to be proud of who you are, nothing can stop you! You should also take the time to learn about your disabilities and your rights as a federally protected person. Never feel like you’re bothering someone when you use your accommodations in the classroom. Always advocate for yourself and your education.

What do you think other alumni can learn from your story?

Be true to who you are and always continue learning. I am so grateful for the experiences I’ve had at the U and for helping me find my way. I came to Coral Gables a feisty teenager who changed her major a few times [to become] a doctor of education, principal, and children’s book author under 30. Anything is possible at the U.

And lastly, what was your dream job as a kid and why?

I always wanted to be a doctor because I wanted to help others the way all of those amazing doctors helped me. I did become a doctor, just not the type I originally planned to become... I may not be able to prescribe medicine, but I can prescribe homework!