“Be the change you wish to see in the world.” – Mahatma Gandhi
I was somewhere between cramming last minute for another notoriously difficult test and nervously checking the time when I read this quote on Mrs. W’s chalk board in AP English II. I remember exactly where I was and what I was doing when I read this quote. It was one of those light bulb moments. You know, one of those few, but precious times in your life where all the puzzle pieces fit together and the big picture becomes clear. If you were a cartoon character, a light bulb would be drawn over your head and you’d have that super corny excited face that they do- you know the one. Every detail about these moments stick in your mind, but the true appreciation comes when you’re able to look back at where your journey began.
I was the kid in elementary school who always chose someone with a disability to be my partner. I was the pre-teen in middle school who always volunteered first for Special Olympics. I was the teenager in high school that fought to get a special education version of the teacher education program that debuted my junior year. Something deep inside me has always known that my calling was to help children with disabilities. The strength and undeniable perseverance of these beautiful souls was something I valued even from a young age. It became increasingly important to me that anyone with a mental or physical handicap felt accepted, important, and most of all- valued.
It wasn’t until my junior year in high school that I learned about Autism. On my choice of schedule form I signed up for “Ready, Set, Teach.” I was excited to be a part of the first graduating class receiving the opportunity to complete this two year program. However, when I requested to study special education, I was told it wasn’t an option because specific curriculum had not been developed for that specialty. The curriculum plans only covered regular education. I decided that I would not compromise my passion without a fight. I coordinated meetings with the teacher and assistant principal to advocate for a special education route in the course. My persistence paid off and I was granted the opportunity to develop a special education version of the Ready, Set, Teach program. On my first day student teaching, I met a student with Autism. He had the most amazing soul and we bonded almost instantly.
I was immediately on a quest for more knowledge about Autism. I wanted to know everything there was to know about it. My main focus was to figure out how to help other students with this disorder. At this point in my life, I was working at Arby’s part-time making minimum wage. I used all the earnings from my next check and bought every book I could find on Autism. I read each book from beginning to end and then over again. One book in particular, The Hidden Child, really touched me. The author, Jeanne Simons, was such an admirable advocate for children with Autism that I decided to send her an email thanking her for inspiring me through her story. I also wanted to let her know that after I got my college education, I would be honored to work at the school she founded for Autistic children, The Linwood Center. I never expected a reply, but to my surprise, I received an email back a few days later. However, it wasn’t from the author of the book whom I emailed, but her executive director, Bill Moss. He informed me that unfortunately, Ms. Simons passed away on the exact date I wrote her and when he got to the office after hearing of her death, my email was the first one he opened. He told me that when the entire staff gathered to pay homage to Ms. Simons, he read my email as part of their tribute to her. What I wrote in my email, he explained, illustrated how she still impacts the world of Autism even 50 years after she founded The Linwood School. I was so honored to receive this message that I printed it out and framed it. Every time I need a reminder of how to be the change I want to see in the world, I read that email and I am immediately reminded of how Ms. Simons embodied the exact essence of that quote.
Tonight’s dessert is provided by #TheCapitalGrille Birthday Cake is sooooo 2013