We Are America

Voices of the Nation's Future

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here could not be a better day for this. It was nice and sunny with a light breeze that gives off summer vibes. The smell of fresh grass on the football field filled the air. Students were finally being called up to grab their diplomas in their crimson caps and gowns. They were being called alphabetically by last name and they were at K. They were calling name after name and everyone was congratulating them. There was cheering and shouting for all of the proud seniors that were graduating. I also congratulated them, but I didn’t really know a lot of them and I was still just waiting for one person. “Oliver Laidlaw!” I was a little nervous for some reason. There were two gigantic screens showing the seniors getting their diplomas and I thought Oliver might do something embarrassing, like make a weird noise or run around. But no, he walked up, took his diploma with his mask on, shook hands, and walked on. I wasn’t embarrassed at all to see this. I was proud of Oliver, and I was proud he was my brother.

My brother Oliver has a disability called down syndrome and can’t do certain things, like talk in complete sentences or read or write. He can’t do what most high school students do in class, so he had special classes that help him with his needs. I always assumed he was going to graduate high school and I never put much thought into it, but it never really hit me until he was a senior that it was actually going to happen. I began to wonder what it would mean if my brother graduated and if he actually could graduate. Does Oliver need to meet any qualifications to graduate high school? Or does he not have to do anything and just show up to class? My mom told me that he was going to graduate, but my questions still resonated with me. Why did my brother deserve to graduate?

I remember when Oliver and I were both in elementary school, I would get home and do my math homework, and Oliver would get home with no homework. I always got a little bothered by this and wondered why Oliver didn’t get any work assigned to him at home. I was putting all of my effort into doing my school work and Oliver got off the hook. The thing I didn’t realize at this time was Oliver wasn’t off the hook. He was still putting the same amount of effort into his work as me, just in his own way. When he brought home one of his art projects or Mothers Day cards, that was Oliver's version of putting in effort to school work.                                                                                                                                     Now I knew Oliver deserved to graduate. He had done so much to get ready for this graduation ceremony and I could tell he was excited. I started to then understand that Oliver wasn’t graduating because he completed all of his classes or showed up to school. He was graduating from the time, effort and work he spent throughout all of his school years. He might have not completed a high school math class or written an essay, but he did everything he could in school to the best of his ability and because of that, he was going to graduate. 

Oliver was in the parking lot of Memorial Field after the ceremony. I could see him in the distance as we were heading out. He seemed happy about the whole ceremony. I don't know if Oliver really understood what this was for but I could tell he knew he did something important. "Congratulations Oliver you just graduated!" I exclaimed as I patted him on the back. I was so proud.

© Simon Laidlaw. All rights reserved. If you are interested in quoting this story, contact the national team through this website and we can put you in touch with the young person's teacher.