Dear Class of 2020,
Thanks to current events, I know you have probably heard more speeches, and read more addresses, than recent graduating classes. Indulge me as I add to that collection.
This year, being Alex’s freshman year in high school, I’ve sat to the side at many events and just observed. I wanted him to experience high school like any other kid, but because he has Down syndrome I was really worried about how everything would work out. So, I lurked and observed, ready to swoop in as needed. Looking back, I didn’t have to do that very often, and a lot of that is because of the friendship that you offered him.
I watched as you excitedly cheered his arrival at football games, exchanged special handshakes, supported him at the Columbus Buddy Walk, picked him up to go eat chicken strips, showed up to his not-so-surprise birthday party, invited him to be a small part of your sports teams, and partnered with him in your broadcast class. Most recently, I’ve overheard countless FaceTime calls where, even if he just called you the day before, you chatted with him and set up times to play Fortnite together.
I watched many times as you have literally scooted over to make room for him, in a world where too many are reluctant to do that because he has Down syndrome. While this has meant the world to Alex, it means just as much to his family, and it gives me hope that he will continue to have a great experience with friends as he moves through high school.
Not only have you beautifully included him, you make it look effortless. It may not seem remarkable to you to do these things, but I want you to know that it truly is, as there are many adults in our world who still struggle to do what seemingly comes so easily for you. While inclusion is not always easy, it is important and I feel like you understand that. Thank you for setting the pace.
As your next chapters begin, I can only hope that you will take Alex’s friendship along with you and remember that he will always be here to cheer you on. One of his best traits is his loyalty; once you’re his friend, you’ll always be his friend. As you move on and do amazing things in this world, I hope you’ll continue to be inclusive. Think of him when you are presented opportunities to be leaders, and how much he would appreciate the chance to be treated as a peer rather than an afterthought. People with Down syndrome are able and willing to be equal members in their communities, but they need more people to partner with them to make that happen. I believe that each of you can help us make that transition.
I can’t wait to continue to sit to the side and watch that happen.
Congratulations, Class of 2020.