(another teacher tribute…)
Okay, I’ve been a bit lazy with my posts the past couple weeks. So I’m pulling another piece out of the archives for you all. This is a story I wrote as part of a little exercise I did with Alex’s home program team several years ago.
Because I believe teacher expectations have a lot to do with student success, I wanted to do something to broaden everyone’s ideas about what my little guy could do and be and achieve. I asked each teacher to bring a “vision” of Alex to the next team meeting. The vision could be of Alex at any age, in any situation, at any time from childhood up to old age. I asked them to describe in as much detail as possible what they saw Alex doing, his personality, his strengths… whatever would create the most vivid picture for the rest of us of Alex’s potential.
The stories the team brought to that meeting were phenomenal. One painted a picture of Alex as a teenage drummer in his own garage band. Another saw him as a brilliant college student. One by one, each person read their visions to the group. Every story highlighted something special about my unique kid. Alex’s quirks, like his obsession with lights and electronics, were transformed into assets. And as a result, our collective dreams and expectations grew. The following was my small contribution to that process.
Dreaming for Alex
Alex is 35 years old. He is dressed a bit more formally than his usual jeans and t-shirt. His hair is kinda long in back, wavy. He is clean-shaven, but has a bit of a tousled “Brad Pitt” sort of look to him. He is sitting in an auditorium with his beautiful wife, awaiting the announcement of an award. His name is called. Everyone applauds.
He smiles, kisses his wife and walks to the stage almost confidently, like he had foreseen these events and knew his name would be the one called. He takes his place at the podium and is handed the Oscar for “Best Innovation in Lighting Direction in a Major Motion Picture” at the technical portion of the Academy Awards. He knows that although this part of the awards show won’t be televised in its entirety because it is not as glitzy as the live-broadcast part, the celebrity host of the night will be responsible for introducing this show’s highlights. He knows that right now he has a chance to make a statement to the world.
He clears his throat and looks around. For a second there is an awkward silence as the audience waits for him to begin speaking. He says simply, “Thank you. This is great. I’d like to thank a few people who helped me.” He takes a list written on half-torn scrap paper out of his pocket and begins to read:
“Nicole, Sheila, Albert, Joan, Damion….”
The audience smiles and applauds politely as each person appears from backstage as their name is called. He continues, “…Max, Kim, Debby, Lisa, Dani, Sue, Janet, Trisha, Denise, Miki, Susan, Mari, Michelle, Lauren, Steph, Jennifer, Alli, Jill, and Ashley” reading each name slowly and deliberately to give the audience time to hear it. There is a little buzz going through the auditorium, whispers of “Who are these folks?” and “Did we work with them before?” When the stage is filled with people and Alex is surrounded on both sides, he leans forward to the microphone.
“Everyone I worked with on this film is great and deserves great credit. Thank you all. But these people standing with me aren’t them. Tonight I want you to meet the people in my life who helped make it possible for me to be here, to learn all I have learned, to contribute to the world. These are the people who believed in me and my potential unconditionally at the start of everything. See, when I was 3 years old and my mom and dad were being told that my future was uncertain, these people believed in me and helped me.”
He pauses then continues, “Because I have autism. I didn’t speak until I was four. I used to have terrible anxiety and stomachaches. I was stuck behind a wall in my mind, knowing I could do great things, but scared and alone thinking no one would help me to figure out this world. When I most wanted and needed someone to help me, these people did and this is the best way I can think of to thank them.” He turns to the crowd surrounding him and says, “You guys are great and you deserve great credit. Thank you.”
The audience erupts in roaring applause, the first standing ovation for the most innovative technical lighting director in the history of film. The celebrity host wipes away a tear as she escorts the crowd from the stage. And of course, Alex’s speech is shown on the highlights reel during the live-broadcast Academy Awards, putting the words of his thank you to his first teachers into the eyes and ears of the whole world.
Thank you guys. Alex loves you all.