I am one of the luckiest educators on earth. Although I think most people who are humbled daily by seeing the impossible made possible, think that they are the lucky ones. As a specialist and advocate in special education, I have been privileged to see students battling debilitating illness and disability overcome great odds and disease to graduate high school, college and even graduate school, when specialists doubted their ability to mainstream, walk, talk or function in a normative environment. Seeing these miracles has been the greatest blessing of my life, but today I want to talk about one particular student who taught me to believe in the impossible and allowed me to learn that impossible is just a starting point to profound change, both in an individual, school and even society.
The first student with a disability that taught me to believe in the magic in impossibility was me. Until my senior year of high school, I was lucky, thriving in school and set to play college volleyball. In what seemed like overnight, I went from the volleyball courts to a hospital room enduring a battery of tests to see why I went from student and athlete to patient overnight. I was ill, unable to walk, speak or talk. Despite this, I immersed myself in medical texts (before you could diagnose yourself on a search engine) and eventually presented my doctor with my own diagnosis after a few red herrings. In that moment, despite having lost all my hair and my ability to walk, I started to believe that commitment and fight facilitates impossibility. As I began immunosuppressive therapy, I was told by specialists that I would not have a normal life: it would be filled with medical treatments, disability, a "high likelihood of early mortality" and "no chance of a normal life." With that, I decided to make a life as a specialist of the impossible, using hope and determination to not only battle my own illness but to do the same for others.
As you have probably gleaned, despite "impossible odds" I did graduate high school and eventually college (even law school and receiving a masters). With each passing day, I learned that my mind, not my body, was the barrier to overcoming the challenges stacked against me. Each day, as I learned to navigate a new life with a disability and to ignore the possible, I learned the most important lesson of my life, how to defy the diagnosis and overcome daily challenges through self-advocacy and a radical commitment to justice, conviction and the power of the impossible. This lesson shaped my worldview in the most powerful of ways, I wanted to teach as many people as possible and advocate for as many insurmountable causes as I could. With this mission, I became a teacher and lawyer dedicating my life to teaching advocacy, both for individuals with disabilities and the cause of disability inclusion in all facets of life never neglecting the student that taught me and the students that continue to teach me the astound of the impractical and the power of pluck.
So each time I am presented with hopelessness, a new case or student with the odds stacked again, I am reminded of my own story and the hundreds of students with disabilities I have worked with who have defied the “insurmountable odds” stacked against us. I am incredibly lucky to be surrounded by believers in the impossible, people whose life mission is to create possibility, change and opportunity for all students despite the circumstances. I am so encouraged and inspired by fellow educators and advocates who serve as transmitters of hope and conduits for solutions, positivity and change. With this amazement and #ThinkPossible in mind, I am thrilled to begin this year under this collective ethos of the rightness of impossibility.
This piece was originally submitted to our community forums by a reader. Due to audience interest, we’ve preserved it. The opinions expressed here are the writer’s own.