Friday, July 1, 2016

An Open Letter to the CHS Class of 2017

“An Open Letter to the Class of 2017”… I’ve seen several of these cross my newsfeed lately. All well written, all filled with great advice on living life to the fullest and soaking in every moment of your senior year – all of which I encourage you to do. Ever since the first one crossed my newsfeed though the following has been in my mind, this is my open letter to you – CHS Class of 2017. I hope you will take the time to read it.



An Open Letter to the Canton High School Class of 2017 –

I don’t know how we got here but we are here, the summer before your senior year of high school. Your senior year, I cannot grasp how that is even possible but you are not going to stop telling me that you are seniors so I guess, like your parents, I will accept it too (even though I don’t want to).

We’ve been through a lot together over these past 12 years, it’s been amazing watching you grow into the incredible young adults you have become. You have welcomed me into your classrooms and your lives since grade school, taking the time to learn about Parker and the syndrome that brings such challenge to his life. You’ve taken the opportunity to ask questions, write papers and learn more on your own about Fragile X Syndrome. Most importantly so many of you have become real and true friends to my son, for which I will be forever thankful. Every year you amaze me even more than the last, I speak about your acceptance and friendship as I lecture across the country to people educating them on Fragile X. Possibly without realizing it – you have inspired thousands around the world.

We are half way through summer vacation, it’s not been the easiest for Parker but honestly it’s probably been even harder on me. Parker has asked frequently about “graduation” and “where his friends are” – it only took a couple days out of school for him to start missing you. It’s also the first time he’s talked about graduation and I am sure by the look in his eyes he knows that it means you will not be returning to CHS which is, honestly, crushing me.

I’ve spent many days reassuring him that you have not yet graduated and you will be back in August with him for your senior year. We talk about homecoming and prom (he’s already asking who his dates will be!) and we talk a little about graduation. He asks daily for his friends to come over and for the first time in his life I’ve heard him say “I don’t have any friends.” when no one is available. The reality is he has many and you are all incredible (which I remind him). You are also busy with camps and work, I tell him daily he needs to get a job like his friends.

It’s made me realize, however, that after this year it will be harder to explain where each of you are and how your lives are so different.

I want to back up a minute to a couple of moments in time that I will never forget, I am sure many of you remember them too.  At the end of 4th grade, as we were preparing Parker to transition with you from Eastview (grade school) to Ingersoll Middle School you asked what it would be like for Parker. Would you still see him? Would he have classes with you? Would he be scared? Despite my nerves about this transition, there was comfort in knowing that you were going to be there with him for this experience. You helped me create a video for him to watch about the new school and made sure to talk to him in your classes together. I continued to come in and talk to your class – now much bigger with students from Lincoln and Westview added in at the Middle school – about Fragile X Syndrome and Parker. Many new and amazing friendships were made in your 4 years at IMS for Parker – it was really a great experience for him.

I came in at the end of your 8th grade year, we opened the partition between the classrooms for me to be able to talk to all of you at once about Fragile X. When it came time for questions, they were no longer about the new things I had shared expanding on your knowledge of Fragile X but instead the questions were about Parker going to high school.

I remember so clearly the look of worry in your eyes about how he would do. Would you still get to see him? Would he be in any of your classes? How would he know where to go? This time, I was not the only one with tears. There were questions I did not know the answers to, all I could do was promise you there would be opportunities for you to see him and that I was going to need you to help him, to watch out for him and to educate others to help them accept and understand him. I promised you I would always be here and you could always still come to me. You promised me you would be there for him and you have been – in so many supportive and outstanding ways that, again, exceeded my expectations.

In the past 3 years at CHS you have included Parker in many ways. He’s at every dance with a beautiful date on his arm (he truly wishes there were more dances!). You celebrate his victories and don’t let him get by with trying to get out of anything! (Thank you!)

He’s watched you learn to drive, excel at sports and academics and knows more about each of you that any of us will truly know. He’s given many of you nicknames that have stuck and make him giggle. You go out of your way to say “hi” or talk to him not just at school but when you are out around town too. You have made him feel very much a part of your class and he thinks very highly of each of you. As do I.

While some of you have already asked, I am sure not everyone knows but am happy to answer the question “what will happen to Parker after graduation?”  The general, vague answer is that he will, providing he is willing without you being there, return to CHS continuing schooling until he is 21. During that time we will focus on job skills and independent life skills. After that – I don’t know. I wish I had this grand plan but the reality is I don’t know. I know he will have a job, maybe 2. He will be in our community. I know that if he wants to take some college classes I will be sure he has that opportunity. I know that my goal for him is to be living as independently as possible either in a group home or with friends and a caregiver around his 25th birthday. Not because I don’t want him here – because trust me, I do! – but because I need to see that he will be ok on his own without me. The reality is I won’t be here forever, none of us will. My job, as his mom, is the same as your parents – to help you become independent and responsible adults. It just looks differently for us.

My question for you is what will happen to Parker’s friendships?

I’ve never held back from challenging you and I’m not about to start now. I do want you to take time to really think this through as you only have one chance to be a senior at CHS.

This is your senior year. This is your opportunity to make the most of every day. This is your opportunity to make this the best year not just for yourself but for everyone in your class. This extends beyond Parker – the opportunity to make sure every single person in the class of 2017 has the chance to live and love every moment of this final year together.

You have 10 months and it’s going to fly by. Parker will walk the stage with you, his classmates, and graduate in the spring with you. I will need your help but we will make it happen. He wouldn’t have it any other way, neither would I.

Until then I am asking that you think of the things you love – going to football games, basketball games, baseball games – cheering on our Little Giant teams – and include Parker and those who may not have had these opportunities. Trust me, Parker would much rather go to a football game, sit and hang out with his friends than with his parents (I’m sure you understand that!). Off campus lunch – Parker would love to go grab lunch with friends and eat outside of the cafeteria – he just needs someone to take the lead. Best Buddies/Club Unify… JOIN. I am, begging you, join. This was once a thriving program at CHS and now it’s basically non-existent. CHANGE that. Be there. Be involved. Make the Buddies/Club Unify basketball game versus the Special Olympics team the amazing experience it once was. Go to a Special Olympics game, cheer on Parker and his teammates. Make this year the best for every single one of you… because even though Parker will be returning to school in the fall of 2017 – it won’t be with you. We won’t get this opportunity again. This is your senior year, this is his senior year. The time you put into it making it the best for everyone in your class will create memories that will last a lifetime.

When Parker returns in the fall of 2017, he won’t have you. I don’t know how he will do knowing you’ve went away to college or work and he’s continuing high school. I need help. I need to be sure the underclassman have the acceptance and understanding that many of you do. Together, we need to teach them the importance of accepting, understanding and friending someone with a disability. We need to know there are still good hands to leave Parker in.

This brings me back to my question – what will happen to Parker’s friends? Your friendships will change, it’s part of life. Some will remain friends, others will drift apart. Some will move away and others will stay. Regardless you will all move on to careers and families with time.  What I am asking of you is not to forget Parker. To come hang out with him when you are home on break from college. To keep him in your life as you move beyond college and begin your career and family. To remember that he will always be this very happy spirit who thinks the world of every friendship he has. He will always want to tell jokes and talk sports. He will always be happy to have you visit. He’s always happy to go out to eat or to a movie J  Like you, he will always want and need friends. Remember him when you have reunions, he will want to see you again too.

Like your parents, the future scares me. You grew up way too fast for us. We blinked. We tried not to but it happened. We blinked and you grew up.

I worry, more now than ever before about Parker’s future. As your parents will worry for your health and safety, I worry for his. He will always be in the hands of someone to care for him. I read stories almost daily, too many times from people I know, who’s adult children with Fragile X are living in group facilities and are mistreated or beaten. One of my greatest fears is someone will hurt him. There is a chance Parker will never be able to communicate with me – or anyone –if someone is abusing him or be able to answer where bruises came from. It is a significant amount of trust I have to have in the people in this world. Those individuals will include you. You will be part of the generation that helps care for Parker and individuals with disabilities, who employs them, who treats them medically – your future careers will likely involve, or have the opportunity to involve, working alongside of, hiring or treating someone with a disability. Just as you have Parker, I ask that you give that person a chance. Help them, encourage them, believe in them and you will see great things from them. The world is filled with a million “Parkers” giving you plenty of opportunities to make a difference in the lives of someone. I hope you see a bit of Parker in each of them too and make a positive difference, just as you have for my son.

As you go forward into your senior year, know that you have made a difference, that you have inspired many across the world. Make this year count more than you ever have before. For yourself and for Parker. And please, after you accept that diploma next spring, promise me you’ll keep Parker in your life and continue to make time for him. I can’t imagine him facing this world without you.

Keep doing what is right, keep standing up for others and being a positive voice. You are going to go far and do outstanding things. I have no doubt.

Thank you for the memories of the past 12 years. You have been a huge part of the success Parker has had and the ones to come. I am and will always be forever grateful. I am excited to see what this final year will bring for all of you!

Enjoy the rest of your summer – come visit Parker, he’s asking each day for company and I’m yet to talk him into getting a job. Make the most of your senior year, it’s going to go by fast – take time to stop, look around and soak it all in. There is an amazing year ahead for all of you.

Keep on changing the world, we need more positive people who are not afraid to do the right thing and make a difference. You have it in you – let it shine.

Sincerely,
Parker’s Mom









Parker was born with a genetic disability called Fragile X Syndrome. Fragile X is the leading inherited cause of intellectual disability and the leading genetic cause of autism. To learn more, please visit www.fragilex.org !

3 comments:

  1. Like you, I'll say it for all to hear. YOU, continue to make the world a better place each day and with everything you do. I'm proud to call you my friend. I'm writing from the future. Like you, I've feared it but having arrived, I can report It's actually okay. Progress continues every day. Happiness abounds, but like it has everyday, so does fear and trepidation for tomorrow. It's in a way comforting to know tomorrow will be like today but as you know too well, there is a sadness too. But today is good and tomorrow will be too. Im Proud to call you friend, to be a guide and mentor and I'm grateful to learn from you. Hey Parker, hey Allison, take good care of my friend. She's pretty special. Jeff

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  2. Holly I have the same fears and feelings. While Jeffery shares much of your story there are aways things I haven't thought of- thank you for the reminders. I've never lived in fear and try to aways be in reality. With the support of friends and the FX community I know we will have a plan. Your a great mom friend and woman! Now embrace the senior year to my friend- you've worked hard for this time too πŸŽ“

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  3. Love this Holly, prayers for you all❤

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