The graduates made their way down the aisle to the strains of Pomp and Circumstance. Leading the way was a young woman in a wheel-chair, her body racked by cerebral palsy, nonetheless she held her shoulders and head high and smiled broadly as she moved to the stage in the front of the small auditorium.
She was followed by six others, five young men, and one more young woman; all of these people, these graduates, were developmentally disabled . Each one dealt a hand that left them somewhat physically and mentally impaired.
The auditorium was filled with family and friends of the small class of 2007. I was seated next to the parent's of one of the graduates; he is on my caseload, so I have known him for at least four years. Apparently he had asked his parents if I was coming to see him graduate.
So I arranged my schedule accordingly. It was my pleasure.
The graduates were all seated on the stage, the young woman in the wheelchair was assisted to the stage via an electronic lift, while teachers and school officials made speeches praising them.
Right before diplomas were handed out, each of the students addressed the crowd: one of the young men shocked the group when he announced that he had his pilot license and had already flown 80 hours, another young man was awarded a special citation by The Governor for all of his hard work, a young woman stood to speak but, overcome with emotion, began to cry ... her teacher helped her finish her speech. The young man on my caseload spoke eloquently and thanked everyone for believing in him (his mother who was sitting next to me wiped tears from her eyes).
Finally, the woman in the wheelchair spoke.
Her words were, at first, difficult to understand, but as soon as she settled in, she gave a heart-felt speech that ended like this, "And finally, I'd like to thank everyone for treating me like a human being, and not like 'that girl' in the wheelchair".
She was awarded with a thunderous round of applause, this young woman who had earlier in the morning, led the procession, and her face simply glowed as she drank in the adulation from those cheering her on.
Then diplomas were handed out, and pictures were taken and this small special class of graduates made their way from the auditorium to the school cafeteria for a reception.
Sipping a cup of coffee, I scoped out the room until I saw my client and made my way to him to give him a gift card and my hearty congratulations. When he saw me his face lit up and he said, "Pax, you made it! Oh no, I forgot to thank you during my speech!" I told him not to worry about it, and then left him to his family and friends.
On my way out, I passed by the young woman who had led the procession. She was seated in a corner while a group of people hovered around her, I walked over to her, and crouched down so that I could be eye level with her and said, "That was a great speech, congratulations on graduating". She smiled at me and said something that I did not hear at first, so she repeated her self, "I said, it feels nice to be noticed for something other than my disability for once!" I nodded my head and smiled.
On the way out I thought about these kids and there brief moment in the sun, and hoped that their future would be as bright and promising as it felt like back in that small auditorium. And then I thought about the guy who had his pilot's licence...
..."I guess the sky's the limit", I said to myself.