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Marine Science senior an advocate for himself and others

By the end of middle school, Guillem Colom was ready for a change. He called the preceding years a "transformational time in my life" and wanted the experience to branch out and be himself.

Diagnosed as autistic at a young age, he had been going to a variety of therapies but said he had reached a point where he felt good enough about himself that he didn't need them anymore.

Instead of continuing in East Lyme, Colom began attending Marine Science Magnet High School in Groton. He speaks highly of the past four years, the "amazing academic environment with small classes," teachers who are caring and hardworking, and new friendships.

Now, Colom is preparing for another change: He is graduating high school and headed to Tufts University to major in political science, with a "dream job" of being White House chief of staff someday. He said current chief of staff Ronald Klain is "somebody that I very much admire, regardless of politics."

Colom, 18, said he chose the Boston-area school for its "amazing political science environment," small class sizes and strong disability rights culture.

He lights up when he talks policy, saying he's "more of a policy guy than a politics guy."

Colom said he became more interested in political science after the 2016 presidential election, considering analysts forecasted Hillary Clinton as the victor but Donald Trump won. He said he used to be more conservative but is now more centrist, and that reading about foreign affairs took him out of the previously isolationist views he held.

Colom reads news sources from different sides, citing Vox as his favorite liberal-progressive outlet — Dylan Matthews and Matthew Yglesias have been "phenomenal influences," he said — and on the other side, The Bulwark, an anti-Trump conservative site founded in 2018. Colom said he is fascinated by the interaction of conservative and liberal politics, and by how the parties have changed over the years.

Advocating for himself and others

"We're very proud of him. He's done an exceptional job," said Colom's mother, Britt. She said he's "been through quite a bit to get to this point."

Britt said her son was nonverbal until almost 5 years old, and when he went to preschool, she prayed that he would be OK all day, since she was the only one who understood him.

"I just wanted him to be the best that he could, whatever that was," she said.

Colom was in a variety of therapies — physical, speech, reading, psychological. Tennis was suggested as a physical therapy technique, and he began playing at Lyme Shores Tennis Club at age 6.

He won the ECC Doubles Championship as both a sophomore and a senior, and he was co-captain of the East Lyme High School boys tennis team this year.

"I always loved tennis. I think tennis is a lifelong sport," he said. Some of his favorite tennis players are Daniil Medvedev, who he said has a forehand similar to his own, and Rafael Nadal, who Colom admires for his philanthropy off the court.

He has combined his enjoyment of physical activity and his desire to advocate for others — in addition to advocating for himself — by getting involved with the Seaside Saybrook Special Olympics.

He began playing basketball there in seventh grade and started coaching in high school. Colom said the experience taught him people are a lot more alike than different.

He draws connections between disability advocacy and his interest in policy, saying of educational inequality, "It's not easy to acknowledge that we have some basic fundamental problems within our systems, but in fact, we do."

Colom talked about a school project he did on redlining and housing discrimination, and how that impacts educational inequality in communities of color. He added, "People of color with disabilities had it very, very hard back then, and they still have it extremely hard, a lot more than I do."

Colom created Kindness Week at MSMHS, with a focus on "not just believing in the virtues of kindness and acceptance but acting on it every day." The week included a Disabilities Acceptance Day.

Colom also joined the debate team his sophomore year, debating at the championship that year whether the Food and Drug Administration should ban the sale of electronic cigarettes, and the following year debating the abolishment of capital punishment.

"It sometimes conflicts with your personal perspectives and opinions, but you just had to learn to adjust," he said. He liked that in debating, nobody created false associations or engaged in whataboutism; "it's just straight-up facts."

Colom is also a member of the National Honor Society, and he was invited to give a speech at the MSMHS graduation.

Principal Tara Amatrudo recalled that Colom was one of the first students who welcomed her when she came onboard last year.

"His enthusiasm for this school, but also for just being an open and supportive person in life, is honestly striking," she said. "He has really high expectations for himself and others, and that is a really good thing, because he really pushes our community to be a little bit better and do a little bit more."

e.moser@theday.com

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