At a recent all school assembly, 800 high school students sat with their eyes glued to the stage listening as two young women explained what it’s like to live with Downs Syndrome.
Amelia Abel talks openly about her desire to have more friends. She is honest about what it feels like to be ignored and talked about because most people see her disability and fail to see her humanity.
I watch kids in the audience wipe tears from their eyes and hang on her every word as she shares her hopes, her fears and her dreams.
Afterwards, students come forward to talk with Amelia and another young woman named Monica. They ask questions, tell them what a great job they did and several write me on Face Book to try to find out how they can get in touch with Amelia.
Amelia and Monica open doors. Students come forward to tell how child abuse, divorce and autism separate them from the world too. They related to these two young women and discover that they aren’t much different after all.
What you find when you sit and listen to folks like Monica and Amelia is that we all come with disabilities and special abilities. The secret to finding them is for those around us to stop judging and start listening.
At one point during the assembly I ask students why we judge one another. I tell them that the next time they feel like saying something rude behind someone’s back to do me a favor and just shut up.
Silence fills the room and one kid and then another and another shout out, “yeh.”
You can say what you will about kids today. You can worry that the world is going to Hell in a hand basket. But after what I witness at Cottage Grove High School I have no worries.