A day that I have imagined since Jared was a toddler and first diagnosed with autism.
A day that I have thought about and wondered exactly how it would play out.
Today was graduation day for Jared and his peers at Cosby High School - the Class of 2017!
Long ago, when Jared was 5, we pushed for Jared to be in classes in his neighborhood school - the school where all of the kids in our neighborhood go to school. It was important to our family that Jared be seen as a part of his community and not someone who just comes into the community once in a while.
So today Jared stood among the students at Cosby High to participate in the graduation ceremony.
Many of these students have known him since he was in Kindergarten. They have grown up together through elementary, middle and high school. He has a community. And that has made a HUGE difference in Jared's life.
As I sat and took it all in today, I could not keep the tears away.
These tears were from way down deep.
These tears were ones that represented every emotion possible.
Today I felt Gratitude....
So many people have played a part in Jared's many accomplishments. Jared is a young man with pretty significant autism. It has truly taken a village of teachers, aides, therapists, family members and friends to help us get to the place where he is today. I am forever grateful for our village.
I am grateful for the skills that Jared works so hard to obtain - skills that others may not think twice about - but skills that he had to work on for so many years in order do what he did today. He walked in with the group. He sat in a chair through a very long ceremony. He took off his cap when appropriate. He stood when he was supposed to. He walked across the stage and shook hands with some people he didn't even really know. All of these are skills that required much work on his part, and represent just a few of the small things that I am so grateful for.
I am also so grateful for a community that surrounds my son - a community that accepts and includes him. He has FRIENDS and that is what we have wished for him for so very long. You see, we can provide so many things in life that my son needs, but we cannot give him friends. And as I watch him today as he participated in this culminating event, I knew that he truly has friends.
Today I felt Fear....
So many fears encompassed today as well. I fear my son's future. I fear that he will lose the community that he has built around him. Kids grow up and go their own ways - college, jobs, marriage, kids of their own. But that is not the path Jared's life will most likely take. Jared is not going to college next year. Instead he will be back doing more high school classes and continuing to work on learning employment skills, social skills, reading skills, math skills and independent living skills. His peer group will go a different way. And his adult world will not offer the same opportunities and support that his many years in school have offered. I know that I will continue to tirelessly work to help him connect to the world around him, but I am afraid that will be more difficult as he ages. I know we will continue to look for ways for him to be employed in his community, as we fear him being at home all day everyday with nothing to do. I fear him growing older because that means I also grow older - which reminds me that I will not always be around - and I fear what will happen to him when I am not. In fact that is my biggest fear of all. And today brought me to that place once again.
Today I felt Grief....
Yes, grief. Each time when Jared reaches a milestone age/event there is a little grief that I must deal with. This is just part of our life. When a child is born we begin to dream about their future. That was no different for Jared. When he was born, we envisioned him as a young adult, and thought of what his life might look like. Today I had no choice but to come to face to face with the reality that Jared will never receive a high school diploma. A reality that was not a part of my dream for my infant son. But it is our reality. Today that reality (like so many others over the years) caused my heart to grieve.
Today I felt Hope...
As I watched my son, I was reminded to never lose hope. I was reminded of a time, when Jared was three and I was asking about skill that Jared was struggling to learn, and a doctor told me "stop working on that, he will never do that, you just need to accept that he will not." I was reminded that I chose not to listen to that advice, but instead chose to have hope. I remembered the great strides my son has made and how many of those are because we chose to have HOPE. I watched him smile and clap and cheer for his classmates. I watched students cheer for my son as he took his turn walking. My heart repeated the words "Never give up. Don't ever give up!"
Today was a day that reminded me of
where we have been,
where we are,
and where we hope to be in the future.
I continue to be full of emotions, and will be processing them for days to come.
As for Jared ....
He can't stop talking about today and his seniors and being a Cosby Titan!! No one loves Cosby more than he does.
He also has reminded me - many, many, many times - that he will be starting football season in July with the Cosby Titan football team. "That's my team and they need me!" he says. And yes, thanks to some of the most incredible people I have ever met, Jared will be back on the Cosby sidelines for football and girls' basketball next year, and he will be happy!
Whereas I felt so many emotions today, I can tell you that Jared felt just one...
Jared felt HAPPY!
If you ask him about today he will tell you "It was GREAT!"
And he is right!!