Grace with her teacher, Angela Helman, after graduation ceremonies at Peabody College. Photo: Vanderbilt Kennedy Center
Two weeks ago, as I emerged out of an anesthesia-induced sleep, I looked over to my side into the face of my oldest friend in Nashville. Paula. She had come to drive me home when the nurses deemed I was ready to make the pilgrimage. Meanwhile, as I recovered from minor surgery, my fiance was journeying across town to pick up my daughter from school and drive her to an art lesson two counties over.
Upon entering the hospital that morning, the staff had taken my belongings and stored them during my procedure. Amongst them was my cell phone, so I missed the call from Grace's teacher that she would need to cancel that day's lesson. When Paula and I crossed the threshold of my home late that afternoon, I learned of my fiance's trip for naught. But, he quickly assured me, it was okay. They'd stopped for Chinese and had brought some take out for me. Plus, he said, he got to witness the blessing of seeing people extend compassion toward my daughter, Grace, who has autism.
I asked him what he meant. He told stories from the afternoon that ranged from the woman emerging from the bathroom at the art center who assured him that Grace was okay and conducting her business. The art center receptionist who spoke kindly to Grace. And the Chinese restaurant clerk who smiled widely and lovingly at her, seeming to understand her differences.
I got it. I get it. Nearly every day, I, too, am gifted this blessing. And Friday, was one of the most special. Angela Helman came to H.G. Hill Middle School mid-year, replacing a retiring teacher. She was fresh from Peabody's special education program at Vanderbilt, recently named the country's leading such program. Sweet and competent, already married and world-experienced before completing her graduate degree, Helman moved through my daughter's last middle school semester with finesse, conferring with me when necessary and vice versa.
And then came the field trip notice that the thought of still moves me to tears. Helman walked in her graduation ceremony last Friday and she wanted all of her LifeSkills special education classroom students to be there to celebrate her accomplishment and meet her out-of-town family.
As a parent of a student with a disAbility, I am deeply touched that this young, passionate teacher would think and wish to include my daughter and her peers in her special education graduate degree ceremonies. To me, this is a beautiful circle made complete: A new teacher, fresh from her graduate special education program, already successfully exercising her skills to teach exceptional students in the local public school system; helping her students merge into greater society; and then demonstrating this attitude of inclusivity by extending the privilege of celebrating in her accomplishment at the University. This is the extraordinary spirit that parents, such as myself, dream of having in the people who instruct our special children.
This is the embodiment of compassion. And. I. Am. Blessed.
Here's Vanderbilt's story on Helman and her students field trip adventure: http://kc.vanderbilt.edu/site/newsandevents/news/page.aspx?id=1096