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Ali Lambert Voron '96: Expert in the Field of Overcoming Adversity

Kristina M. Jenkins

Ali Lambert Voron ’96 knows something about overcoming adversity. A dynamic wife, mother, voiceover actress, motivational speaker, and blogger, Voron also happens to have alopecia universalis and has suffered from ulcerative colitis. And while these two very different conditions have been life altering for Voron, neither has diminished her incredible spirit nor her optimistic outlook.

“I’ve always been one of those glass-half-full people, seeing the positive in everything. And I’ve always believed that everything happens for a reason,” says Voron, who largely attributes her decisive ability to live life in the affirmative to her supportive Shipley experience.

“I’m just a normal person, but I feel like the fact that I walk around bald says something about me,” says Voron, who has rarely worn a wig to cover up the reality that she lost all of her hair at 16 due to alopecia.

“The fact that I’m open, brave, and comfortable to go bald—I think that immediately says a lot about me. It’s pretty cool, and it’s significant to me that it all happened at Shipley. And that it all clearly went so well.”

Courage for the Deed

Voron came to Shipley in the third grade and thrived in the warm environment, taking advantage of everything the School had to offer, from academics to athletics to art. But Voron’s diagnosis with alopecia universalis—an autoimmune skin disease that results in hair loss everywhere on the body—in her junior year of high school could have derailed that cheerful grade-school experience.

Instead, Voron looks back on that time as constructive rather than traumatic. “It turned out to be one of the best things that ever happened to me because of the way it went down. It helped to form who I am today and why I am a successful person, professional, wife, and mother,” she says.

“The difficulties that I had that year were just because of what it was,” says Voron, who strove to normalize what was happening with honesty and bravery, and to cope by turning to her family—both at home and at Shipley.

“The Shipley community—Dr. Piltch, the faculty, my friends, and the other students—read how we wanted to go through it, and they helped to create that foundation and environment at school,” she says. “It was a team effort; everyone was in it together.”

Learning to Lead

Through her inspirational example of strength in the face of hardship, in many ways, Voron wound up leading the School in how to deal with a condition like alopecia. And though she was already a school leader, it wasn’t even on Voron’s radar to run for All-School President when Dr. Piltch made the suggestion. “It was so encouraging and so humbling,” says Voron, “and it sent me this message that even if you’re different you can still succeed and be a leader.”

After a successful campaign, Voron stepped into the role of All-School President, a position that serves as the face of Shipley’s student body. Truly, Voron was well suited to the job. “By the time I was a senior, I was a real advocate of why Shipley is such a great place to be and how it can really shape who people are,” she says, which perhaps contributed to her two younger sisters following her lead and each becoming All-School Presidents in turn.

“It was such an incredible experience that I have taken with me my entire life because it made me feel like I could really be a leader, especially after going through such a public challenge,” says Voron.

With her leadership skills and optimistic outlook established, Voron went on to attend the University of Pennsylvania and study communications and photography. At Penn, too, Voron felt supported and accepted by her peers.

Discovering a New Talent

After graduating from Penn, Voron moved to New York City and accepted a position at a commercial editing company, where she put her love of photography to use as an editor. Soon, though, her skills behind the scenes were upstaged by a newfound talent: voiceover acting.

“I really lucked out big time,” says Voron of her entrance into the voiceover acting world, explaining that oftentimes the editing company’s employees perform for weeks on what’s called a “scratch track” before a voiceover actor is hired to perform on the final track. Frequently, the team grows accustomed to the scratch track and the editor becomes the actor. And so it happened with Voron. “One of my first commercials was a Hanes commercial that Michael Jordan was in, and it wound up airing during the Super Bowl,” she says.

Voron’s voice has been heard on many national commercial spots—for American Express, Geico, Mirena, Weight Watchers, Visa, and many more. Last year, she won the job of live announcer for the MTV Video Music Awards, and attributes her success in the role back to Shipley. “Having done so many weekly speeches at Shipley as President and performing on the spot made me more comfortable to do the live announcing. There was no room for error,” she says.

And though you may never know it, you might have listened to Voron's voice on the outgoing message of a local business. She has made a side business out of recording voicemail systems for small businesses all around the country.

A New Diagnosis

With her career advancing and the future looking bright, little did Voron know that she would need to tap her own coping expertise once more when, 10 years after being diagnosed with alopecia, she found herself battling ulcerative colitis.

“I’ve never felt more horrible in my life,” she says of the symptoms of the ulcerative colitis flare-up she experienced in 2007. Voron dealt with extreme pain, uncontrollable bowels, bloating, weakness, dehydration, and all of the emotional side effects of such an overwhelming autoimmune disease. “Alopecia is a piece of cake compared with colitis,” she says.

Ultimately, after a four-year struggle with ulcerative colitis, Voron opted to have her colon removed, and has since then enjoyed a relatively normal and overall healthy life. “Having my colon removed in a two-part surgery in 2011 was a carefully thought out decision that ultimately saved my life,” she says.

Sharing Her Story

Now, with two illnesses overcome, Voron’s belief that everything happens for a reason has been firmly solidified, and she’s overwhelmingly motivated to help others struggling with chronic conditions.

“Having gone through both of those things—one so physical and one cosmetic—I have a lot of stories to share,” says Voron. “Since I lost my hair, I’ve really been an advocate for overcoming obstacles and tough times in life. I’ve always wanted to be an expert on coping and to lend my experiences to guide others,” she says.

On a daily basis, Voron’s choice to not wear a wig and leave her head bare offers up the chance to share and engage with others, all of whom, Voron has learned, have a story to tell. “Many choose to wear a wig, or to cover up their scalp, but it’s much more comfortable for me to be who I am and not to cover up,” she says. “By baring it all, it makes me more secure.”

By not wearing a wig, Voron leaves herself open to both curious strangers and those looking to connect, most often about an experience with cancer. “I started to realized that with each of these approaches, the vast majority of the time it was somebody who wanted to connect and then share their own story, she says. “And if I just stood there for one minute, or four minutes, or sometimes 10 minutes and chatted with this person about their story—and most of the time just listened—it was the most empowering, humbling, extraordinary moment to be able to do that for that person.”

At her core, Voron feels privileged by the interactions. “I feel that I have been awarded an incredible honor to be trusted with such intensely personal stories. These encounters are the greatest gifts I have received from losing my hair.”

Teaching Others How to Cope

Beyond her daily interactions, Voron is taking the next steps towards embracing a role as a coping expert through blogging for Everyday Health, The Huffington Post, and for her own blog, The Good, The Bad and the Snuggly. She has also enjoyed motivational speaking engagements with the likes of The National Alopecia Areata Foundation, The Susan G. Komen Foundation, Bloomberg, Inc, and her own charity organization, Bald Dolls 4 Bald Kids. “It’s really what I felt I was meant to do,” she says.

“I have a very positive outlook on how to get through crises,” says Voron, who is driven by the realization that she can help others by sharing her experiences and being open about her struggles both in person and online. “I think that those stories and those tools would be great to share with others. I’m not saying it’s the only way, but my way is worth sharing,” she says.

Obviously, there are thousands who agree. Voron’s post Why I’m Finally Sharing the Photos I Hid For Years went viral, receiving attention on Everyday Health, then The Huffington Post, and finally running on the Yahoo! homepage for 24 hours. In the post, Voron says, “I revealed insecurities about my appearance that I had been hiding for 20 years, and I shared photos of myself without eye makeup, in which all of those insecurities were highlighted.”

The bravery to reveal her vulnerabilities resonated with millions, and only served to set Voron forward on a course towards placing her self-affirming coping methods within the reach of anyone in need. “I feel like I’m organically taking my career and my experiences at Shipley and using them to do what I’ve always really wanted to do, which is help other people and guide other people through tough times,” she says.

For now, though, the next steps are yet to be taken and Voron is more than happy to enjoy life in Westchester, New York with her supportive husband, Mike, and their daughter, Joey Love. “Life is good,” says Voron.

Want to read more of those stories or connect with Voron? Check out her writing on Everyday Health or on her own blog, The Good, the Bad, and the Snuggly.

Listen to some of Voron's voiceover work at www.alilambert.com.
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The Shipley School is a private, coeducational day school for pre-kindergarten through 12th grade students, located in Bryn Mawr, PA. Through our commitment to educational excellence, we develop within each student a love of learning and a desire for compassionate participation in the world.