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Student's reflections offer new perspective

This is a story about two girls who will graduate from high school this month who have never met. One girl is my oldest daughter, the other is a student I have taught in school for eight years.

The story begins with my student talking about her upcoming graduation and reminiscing about her school years. She said she started preschool at age 3 at Bornhava, and had just learned that she may be able to do an internship there soon. She was thrilled to return and felt that she had come full circle.

A proud transition for some, this achievement was even more special for her, because she is a student with Down syndrome. Then she said, "And to think when I was born, they told my mother I had a 5 0/5 0 chance to live. And I am here. I am alive."

Suddenly, I saw this happy and vibrant girl without seeing her disability. The thought that she might have died in infancy had a profound impact on me. Regardless of her limitations and challenges, this student's life has been a gift to her family, to her educators, to her friends and to me.

Quickly, my own anxiety about my daughter's graduation and college plans seemed misplaced. Amidst all the hours I spent worrying about whether she would be accepted to the right college, was I grateful for the simple gift of her life? While I prodded her to study harder and do more, did I do enough to show her that I appreciate having her as my daughter?

When I think about the absolute love and pride I feel for my daughter, I know that my intentions were good. I guided her to make the right choices and corrected her when I thought she needed to be corrected. I pushed her to be the best student she could be, and she surprised me by being a better student than I could ever have imagined.

Still, my student's life-and-death story put things in perspective for me. I thought about the anguish her mother must have felt when she didn't know whether her little girl would live, and all of the hours her mother has spent since then raising and educating a child with special needs. I thought about her mother's own hopes and dreams for her daughter as she plans for the future.

I thought about the two girls -- the overachiever and the child with special needs. Both girls have arrived at the same place, through very different paths. My student has spent a few extra years in high school to learn vocational skills, while my daughter has taken several Advanced Placement and honors classes.

In both cases, the girls' goal is to become employable so that they can live satisfying and productive lives. Both girls have been conscientious students, made friends and wanted to go to prom. Both girls have had a positive impact on the lives of the people they have met through the years. Both girls have taught me more than I have taught them.

The story ends with both girls putting on a cap and gown and walking across the stage to receive their diplomas as their parents smile and choke back tears. In the end, the girls are mirror images of each other -- two lovely girls with their eyes on the future.

I am amazed at their growth and proud of their accomplishments. But more importantly, I thank God simply for their lives. From now on, and regardless of where the future takes them, I am profoundly grateful that they are here.

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Molly K. Hammerl, a teacher who lives in Williamsville, is grateful for two lovely graduates.

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