The pride I felt seeing my sister graduate from college yesterday made me dream of the day my girls graduate. I pictured all my girls on that day, decked with their caps and gowns. First Ellie, gracefully receiving her diploma, a beautiful young lady with a heart full of love and compassion, ready to live out her next dream and shine her light. I saw Nina walking, yes, walking to receive her diploma, with a father and mother sitting on the stands cheering her on and proud to call her their own. I saw Nichole too, and it was hard not to cry picturing that day.
I don’t know what will be of Nichole’s future. She is only 3 years old, but right now we do see college in her future (there are many programs available now a days for individuals with Down syndrome) It will be a day full of celebration, of empowerment, and of great accomplishment. My friend Leah wrote of her daughter Angela on her essay in Gifts 1, “The sky is her limit.” And so it is for Nichole.
But what if Nichole is not able to go to college? What if realistically her intellectual capabilities are not found in a classroom of higher education, even in programs targeted for others with intellectual disabilities? Will we have failed? Will she have failed? Will there be less value to her life?
She will never be a doctor, a lawyer, or a scientist. She will not be the greatest athlete or performer. She will not find the cure for cancer and she will certainly not be the next president. But then I look at Nichole and I am trapped in her eyes, unable to look away, unable to question anymore. The little girl that looks back at me is not broken, and she is not less than perfect. The value of her life is not found in all the things that she will never be, but in the things that she is. And at only 3 her accomplishments are those that many of us seek to someday reach.
Nichole might not be a college graduate, but she is my teacher, my teacher of life. She has taught me what celebration looks and feels like. The power of cheering for others and the freedom of dance. She has taught me that a worthy performance is not found in a basketball court or a stage, but on a living room floor stacking blocks, and in saying “crackers please.” I see it as she embraces people and her love bring them to tears and a muster from their lips, "She makes me feel loved like I never have been before." I have seen worship to God that is so honest and seems so pleasing, that it brings me to tears. I see it as Nichole tries to sing along at church, raising her arms to the God that gave life to her, or singing along and dancing to a video while she tries to sing along, “Let everything that breaths sings praises to the Lord, praise the Lord!”
She has partnered with God to work in my selfish heart. A heart that many times is so lost in this world and forgets that the standards I live for are not the ones set by people, but those set by God. She lives them, she teaches them to me.
I have seen joy in her, and wished that I could feel what she feels. It is so pure.
I have felt peace and love through her. At times when I am down, she instinctively knows it and comes to pat my back, and then she pulls me tight into a hug and offers a smile, maybe even asks if I need some crackers or chips too.
And every day she works harder than I usually do to master and accomplish new skills.
No diploma will ever be able to credit the value of Nichole’s life or the meaning of her accomplishments. She is already ahead of me in the things that really matter in life, and therefore she is my teacher and I her student.
And someday, maybe I will get to “graduate” and she will be the one cheering for me saying, “You did it mom! You did it!” And I hope that she is as proud of me as I am proud of her now.