"Sometimes grace manifests itself as synchronicity -- its energy brings together people or events in a soothing, helpful, or dramatic way when you most need it and least expect it. At other times grace is the energy that suddenly illuminates us with understanding, allowing us to see what we had not been able to grasp before. Grace can also lift us into an altered state of consciousness, suffused by an unfamiliar energy -- an indescribable combination of love, hope and fearlessness."
In it, I write to the 8th graders in Patrick's class.
They had spent nine years together - from Kindergarten to 8th grade - and truthfully, they were an experiment.
Never before, in our local Catholic school
- or even in our entire diocese -
had a student with Down Syndrome been fully included.
Patrick was included in kindergarten and we had no idea what would happen.
Would it be possible for him to learn?
Would he make friends?
Would he understand what was going on?
Could he make his sacraments? Go on field trips?
Attend 6th grade sleep away science camp?
Could he be a big buddy to younger students?
The short answer: YES.
A resounding, giant, huge, YES!
But, we weren't sure what the other students would do.
Would their learning be negatively impacted?
Would they include Patrick?
Would they accept Patrick?
We shouldn't be so surprised...
children are children.
They accept everyone.
They find a way.
They figure it out.
It's always the adults who think it can't be done.
Well, four years later, those 8th graders have graduated from high school.
Most are off to college.
We decided to host a reunion for those 8th graders and see what it was like four years later.
Short answer: BETTER THAN BEFORE
They came with their parents...or by themselves...or with a friend...but they knocked on the door, shyly walked in and made their way to the backyard table.
The table comfortably sits 8 people.
But, like the famous clown car...or Mary Poppins' bag...the table kept welcoming more and more...they just kept scooting their chairs further and further out...welcoming the next person so naturally it was as if they had seen each other four hours ago, rather than four YEARS ago.
By the time everyone dribbled in, the kids were in a circle of chairs...
the table merely a nice centerpiece.
I thought they might sit in small groups...catching up on what has happened over the past four years...
but they wanted to sit together.
It was organic.
Watching this group, my heart expanded...in fact, it burst.
This.right.here.is what's possible when we welcome everyone to the table.
The table falls away.
It becomes a circle.
As these young adults go out into the world, their heart is inclusive.
They've been given the gift of learning alongside each other and they know what's possible.
It's not a big deal.
It's the way it should be.
Imagine one of these young adults as a teacher.
A doctor giving a prenatal diagnosis of Down Syndrome.
A banker who reads a bank loan document from someone with an intellectual disability.
A small business owner who needs to hire someone.
An apartment owner who will willingly rent his place.
Their life experience will give them the courage to say yes to people on the margins...
and that changes everything.
They understand what's possible.
They know that people with disabilities are capable and valuable and have something important to offer the larger group.
They know that it's possible to be friends.
Watching the Class of 2018, I knew these young people would change the world...
just by being in the world.
They know the secret.
We aren't so different, you and me.
Blessings to you, Class of 2018.
May your journey into adult life be filled with love, adventure, friendship and peace.
May you visit home often.
We're going to miss your sunshine...but the world needs your light.