Tears Galore: All graduations are moving and long. Inevitably when your child or their best buddy walks up to receive the diploma, the heart swells, and the tears spill. A special education graduation offers an additional punch. A real pow to the emotional gut.
Tears for The Struggles of Others: There were several student speakers at our daughter’s Project Forward graduation yesterday. The program offered at Cape Cod Community College draws students with special learning needs and physical challenges from the larger community as well as other sources, such as our daughter’s boarding school. Many of the students were new to me. One speaker described her journey as a 2-pound “preemie” with cerebral palsy who grew up watching her twin sister move along standard developmental lines to go on to college. Yearning for a similar experience, this young lady moved out of her parents’ home to a distant town with a friend and now is completing her education on a college campus as well. That did it. I kept the sobs inside my throat but the tears just poured down my cheeks. The ability to stand up there with hundreds of people listening, in a soft and quavering voice, with an aide by her side in case she lost her place or her poise, perhaps, spoke volumes of the courage, and probably family fortitude and love, that go into a moment such as this.
Crutches and Wheelchairs: Though I know some of this may seem unnecessarily sappy and obvious, the images are powerful. Several students, due to mobility issues, took a great deal of time mounting the stage to receive their diplomas. Everyone waited, hushed, while individuals were helped out of wheel chairs, in some cases, and with crutches and helpers, climbed stairs, to do their “walk” of education completion. The dignity of these endeavors, and the respectful patience of the audience symbolize what is best in humankind.
From Animal Care To Landscaping, Basic Food Prep to Mass Communication, Retail to Office Technology: Project Forward offers ten vocational training programs. At the graduation, the instructors of each of the concentrations described their program, with anecdotes and heartfelt pride. Each student was called up by their concentration. Our daughter was in the first grouping, animal care, second student to walk…and she just bubbled over with exhilaration and pride. These students in general exude pride. The word disability is part of their personal description. But disabled is very different from unabled. And they are a mighty able bunch.
This is Just The Beginning: One of those great moms with whom we have shared our journey said to me after tassels were switched and hats tossed, “You are almost done.” My reaction startled even me: “I feel like we are just beginning.” And I do. I don’t feel relief. I do feel apprehension. In two and a half weeks our daughter will be home. Though we have funding in place, and yes, that is the magic key to unlock the special needs adult door to the future, so much else is only lightly sketched, in no way fully formed. The bones are not even in place. Starting in July, the team at Ability Beyond Disability will begin working with our daughter, evaluating strengths and exploring settings, getting to really know her, hiring staff. They have a ton of material to pour over and many resources. Hopefully during that time frame we will nail down an apartment.
Meanwhile, I am grateful but not “done.” These five years since our daughter left the local H.S. at 16 have done the proverbial “fly by” that is often ascribed to the child rearing process. I feel as if I just put on my seat belt for the flight, and hey, we have landed. Now we all have to get our bearings. Our daughter most of all.
©Jill Edelman, M.S.W., L.C.S.W. 2011
I just attended my niece’s graduation at Smith, so I had fresh images onto which my brain overlaid your descriptions. The Smith graduates were all proud, justly so, of amazing accomplishments. And not to diminish any of what they did, or overcame (how could I know the sacrifices any of those students or their families made to get to that moment), but it is hard not to think, “Yes, but…” after having read your post. At Smith, tears came to my eyes for my niece. Reading your post, tears came to my eyes for all of them.
How wonderful! Smith is such a revered institution for females. Congratulations Unc.
I think what is so powerful for me at Special Needs graduation ceremonies is that much of the struggle is visible! And that is the wonder and wallop of it all. Thanks Jeff, as always, for being my champion and my coach.
Aw, shucks, ma’am.