Adelle Higley has never liked being told she can't do this or can't do that.
"I don't like when people tell me I can't do something, because I know that I can do it. I just prove them wrong and they go hide in shame," joked Adelle, a 14-year old La Cañada resident and freshman at Maranatha High School in Pasadena.
In 1996, Adelle was born in Vietnam with fused fingers and without a right leg. She had been abandoned. When her adoptive parents, Dena and Mark Higley, first met her in her home country, she was sick and malnourished, 17 months old and just 17 pounds. They rushed her to a Saigon hospital. They said they knew right away she was meant to be a Higley.
"It was just the feeling that there was someone out there who was our daughter," said Dena Higley, about why they decided to adopt (the Higleys have four kids, two biological and two adopted). "It wasn't a global, 'we want to help' sort of thing, it was specific to her. We had to find her."
Adelle underwent several surgeries. Today she has three fingers and a thumb on each hand and a prosthetic right leg.
All the challenges Adelle has faced have pushed her to do things people tell her she can't do. She's become a cheerleader, horseback rider, volleyball player, public speaker, a singer-songwriter and now an award-winning musician.
On Nov. 11, Adelle's "Love Me For Who I Am" music video was named the "Best International Student Short" at the New York International Independent Film and Video Festival.
"[The music video] was supposed to be for fun and then it turned into this whole thing," Adelle said about her first and only music video.
She wrote the lyrics for the song and a family friend, James Covell, wrote the music. The video was filmed in a week over the summer at Adelle's home, on the La Cañada High School campus and at Lake Avenue Church in Pasadena. The video was directed by James' son, Christopher Covell.
It was entered into the festival — without any of the Higleys knowing about it — by Christopher's mother, Karen Covell.
"It was a surprise to hear that [Adelle] had even been entered, let alone she had been received as one of the finalists," Mark Higley said.
Music became one of Adelle's many passions in sixth grade after she took a few music classes at La Cañada Preparatory, her middle school. Adelle's parents encouraged her to pursue music after they discovered some of her poetry on Facebook.
"We saw that and thought there was something there," Mark Higley said.
Whenever Adelle writes a piece, she hopes it inspires anyone who hears it. "Love Me For Who I Am" is a song about acceptance.
"The song's message is that no matter how you look or how you act, people should just treat you nicely — the golden rule," Adelle said.
Adelle has been spreading this message a lot lately on a public-speaking tour, telling other teens her life story. So far, she's had speaking engagements at La Cañada Prep, the Childrens Hospital Los Angeles and in a gym filled with 850 people at Village Christian Schools in Sun Valley.
Adelle's dream is to be a veterinarian, not a pop star.
"Whatever happens, happens," Adelle said. "If my music does well, it does well. If it just stays where it is, it stays. I'm just going with the flow. I don't really like to plan things ahead so I just stay in the present and wait for something exciting to happen."