Life is filled with milestones. One of the greatest milestones is High School Graduation. Now, when my girls graduated from Mayfield Schools, it was a long, drawn out process. Becoming a senior at Mayfield was considered not only a privilege, but the beginning of a year of excitement, parties, and overall euphoria. At the end of junior year, you became a "senior" and the fun began. Homecoming, Prom, Assemblies, College tours, and the list goes on and on. When you have a child with a disability, the "process" changes. It is not the euphoria that was with your other children, the biggest challenge picking out the "perfect" prom dress or picking out the "perfect" college. It is a knowledge that the time has come to admit that your child is not like the "typical" students and will not "move on" to their future in the same sense as their classmates. They probably will never drive a car, or go to a prom or walk across the stage to receive their diploma and as much as you want to treat them like your other children, that reality hits you, your child is really disabled and will never truly live a "normal" life.
This realization became clear three years ago when Morris was truly a senior in High School. Now, please, do not get me wrong. Mayfield Schools have been so wonderful, so accommodating to my son, I could never look back and say anything different. Morris was given a one on one aid throughout his entire time in the schools. I was so lucky to have chosen a school system that was nearly perfect to work with on so many trying issues. Morris should have graduated from High School in 2009, along with his classmates that began Kindergarten with him thirteen years earlier. Being that he was disabled, he would have the right to remain at Mayfield City Schools until he was 22 years old, when you are considered an adult if you are on an IEP. The schools allowed him to participate in regular education throughout his entire thirteen year span with his classmates. When senior year came, it was quite different for Morris than my girls. There was no homecoming dance, or choosing of colleges or parties, or prom dates. Instead, Morris was not allowed to graduate with his class because state laws mandate that if you are to continue your education in the school system, you cannot walk across the stage at graduation. Even though I was a Board of Education Member in the past, along with several other Board Members with children with various disabilities, there was nothing we could do to change that fact.
Keep in mind, up until 2009, Morris was "included" with his aide in the classroom, assemblies, etc. He went for his senior picture and even though he was not graduating with his class, he was part of the process of being a senior at High School. When Morris's senior year book arrived, I opened it immediately, excited to see his senior picture. There was no picture in the year book, instead there was a picture I had never seen of him as a junior. I was hurt and confused, and burst into tears. I called up the High School Principal, nearly hysterical crying. He apologized profusely, begging forgiveness. He simply thought that Morris's picture would not be in the yearbook until the year that he truly graduated from CEVEC and Mayfield Schools. He tried so hard to make it up to me, but I simply said, "You took away the moment" the thrill of opening your child's yearbook and seeing their senior picture. Once the moment was gone, it was gone, stolen from me, the moment when you realize, no matter what they said or did, your child was treated differently. I am crying now as I write these words, because it was such a sad moment for me. (Please realize that I hold no hard feelings toward the Principal, it was merely a human error)
Now, Morris has truly graduated and left Mayfield Schools. The end of an era, as my baby begins his adult life. There were no tours of college for Morris, but we did get to tour many faculties that persons with disabilities attend. I was so lucky to find United Cerebral Palsy, a wonderful place for Morris to get to attend during the days, and "work".
Last week, Morris graduated from CEVEC and officially ended his tenure at the Mayfield City Schools. The ceremony was touching and special, but as my family and friends cried with emotion, I had no tears. Maybe because in my mind, Morris really already graduated from the schools three years earlier. Maybe the true realization was the day that I opened that yearbook and did not see his picture. I am so proud of Morris and so grateful to the Mayfield City Schools for their patience, their perseverance and their kindness to my son. Congratulations Morris! You finally graduated!!