This was written by my daughter for her graduation speech. I thought it was touching and wanted to share.
I would like to begin with the story of a ten-year old boy named Ben. Before he was born, he had begun to die. His mother spent two weeks in the hospital as he slowly withered away inside her. She begged for the doctors to deliver him, but they refused fearing he would be too premature to survive. Eventually, realizing that he had begun to shrink rather than grow, they decided they had no choice but to deliver him.
He was born weighing two pounds and eleven ounces. His lungs were so weak his cry was the sound of a bleating lamb: he was so small his father nearly passed out at the sight of him; the first words his mother heard were, “Your son might have Down’s Syndrome.” He spent a month in the hospital clinging to the frayed edges of his life, and when he finally came home he weighed less than four pounds.
As time went on it became clear that although he did not have Down’s syndrome, he was certainly not like other children. He did not take his first steps until he was two years old, he was never on the pediatrician’s growth chart, and he became very sick very easily. He began school a year later than his peers, but was still the smallest and weakest of his classmates. He quickly became an obvious and easy target for bullying of all types. He was pushed off of playground equipment, punched, kicked, called names, and all the administrators ever said was “Brush it off. Get thicker skin.”
His parents were constantly searching for an answer to explain his quirky behaviors, slow development, severe asthma and illnesses that required hospitalizations, but all the doctors would offer were maybes. Maybe he has autism, maybe he has ADD, maybe, maybe, maybe. Finally, he was taken to a geneticist who analyzed his DNA and although she found an answer, it was a double-edged sword. “Your son has a chromosomal deletion,” she told his mother, “but we have never seen this particular deletion before. We don’t know what this means for him, the closest syndrome to this is DiGeorge Syndrome. We need to study him carefully.”
This answer only served to raise more questions. What symptoms of DiGeorge Syndrome would he develop? What symptoms would he develop unique to himself? There was a possibility of schizophrenia, of feeding tubes, of never fully maturing mentally or physically. The future was darkly shrouded in worry and fear, but the present was where the true danger lurked.
In third grade, school became all but impossible for Ben. He had no friends, he would wander the playground alone, and he lived in fear of the bullies who continued to abuse him. He cried daily in class, threw fits over fire drills, hid his schoolwork in his desk, and all his teacher did was roll her eyes and call him lazy. No one cared how he hurt, or how he suffered. They mocked his mother when she walked him into school promising no one would harm him today. He began to slip away, his smile faded, his quirks worsened, he called himself worthless. The only option his mother saw available was to pull him out of school and homeschool him. His geneticist agreed, fearing that the psychological damage he was enduring would destroy him forever.
As some of you may have figured out by now, this story is about my little brother, Ben, and every word is true. I am pleased to say that homeschooling has worked well for him, and although he still struggles with his self-worth and symptoms, he is much happier than he has been in a long time. I can almost see the bright eyed child I once knew in him again.
The whole point of me telling this story is not to beg for your pity or sympathy, but rather to make a simple request: please, do not judge someone before you know who they are. So many people who saw Ben simply thought, “He’s small and weird.” They never considered that he had hopes and dreams, that maybe there was a reason for the way he was, that maybe all he ever needed was a friend.
I know how easy it is to look at someone who acts or looks different and think, “What a weirdo.” We have all done it before, whether if it is to the man who begs for a dollar on the side of the road, the one girl in the room who dares to dance to her own rhythm, or the boy in the corner who never speaks. We do not know who these people are, but we assume that because they are different there must be something wrong with them. Well, maybe there is; maybe they have a physical or mental condition, but they are still human.
In these coming years, you will meet many people who are different from you. Treat these people, whoever they may be, as your fellow humans. We are all in this together. On this lonely planet somehow each of us came to exist, each of us is a miracle, each of us has the right to be different. Before you judge someone, remember the beautiful blessing they are and, please, remember Ben.