Eliza's LONG AWAITED journey of getting to go to college has finally arrived! Last Sunday, September 9th, Eliza and I headed north with a car full of stuff en route to Highline Community College in Des Moines, WA. Eliza received confirmation earlier in the summer that she would be WELCOME as a student at Highline as part of their ACHIEVE program and would be able to follow her dream of being a college student and take regular college classes alongside her peers in subjects she is interested in learning.
She worked hard all summer preparing for this transition. Living in her own apartment in Ashland, navigating the Rogue Valley buses and attending her favorite - Zumba classes!- at the Y, all independently. She wasn't the only one learning either...The rest of us learned that sometimes the best thing we can do is move out of the way a little and let Eliza show us what she is capable of!!!
Last week and this week Eliza has been attending Highline's Summer Institute - a 2 week orientation for ACHIEVE students to prepare them for campus navigating and expectations of college. As Eliza says "I am learning a lot about college, Mom." From my end, it isn't just college. Unlike the college package, complete with dorms and meal plans where both of Eliza's brothers are, or will be, attending, Eliza's college experience at Highline is coming with the additional responsibility of cooking, maintaining an apartment and learning how to navigate the King County Metro to get to and from school, to the grocery store and anywhere else one might aspire to go for entertainment! Talk about a learning curve!
My role has been trainer, supporter, encourager and hugger. We have met many wonderful people in 1 week of living in a new locale! First and foremost have been the incredible staff at Highline! Jenni, Julie, Heather, Linda, Katrina, Rick. Laura - to name a few - have been awesome with ready smiles, feedback and helpful information! We've also met a nurse practitioner, an ENT, and a pharmacist; gone on bike rides with Erika - Eliza's friend, classmate and neighbor since she was 6 who lives in Seattle!; trekked into Seattle to get Eliza a King County Metro reduced fare ORCA card; met Maggie (who will be Eliza's go-to backup person - when significant others are in Oregon); discovered the incredible Des Moines Saturday farmer's market; and been completely charmed by the sunny, dry picture perfect Indian summer weather! I know...I keep warning Eliza that rain is on the way soon! In the meantime, we are out as much as possible soaking in those rays!
While I might come back on as the occasional guest blogger, I am hoping to turn this site over to Eliza and let her convey how things are going in college. So stay tuned...September 24th, 2012, is the official first day of college for Fall Quarter! Ironically that is 2 years to the day from when Eliza started her ceramics class at SOU two years ago. Who would have guessed?
Here's another tidbit, for all of you who have waited patiently to hear more about Eliza through this blog. Eliza's art interests, public speaking and raising awareness continue. She has had 2 pieces of art accepted to be published in a Woodbine House publisher's book of art by artists with Down syndrome; submitted art recently to a contest in Salem, Oregon; will be a guest speaker at the Puget Sound Buddy Walk on October 7th; and speak about her college journey, show her documentary and art slide show during October as part of disability Awareness month at Highline Community College. We could not be more proud of Eliza and the determination, courage and heart she has demonstrated to reach all of her achievements!
If I were to sum up one lesson I've learned from Eliza and her 22 year journey so far...it would be that we all have ABILITIES, and that the label "disabled" is both inaccurate and in itself debilitating. Each person, regardless of their differing abilities, learns and grows through experience and teaching. What they learn is in direct relationship to their "abilities" and their environment. Education, whether formal or otherwise, is the celebration of collective learning through the recognition and meshing of diverse ideas and differing abilities. Education is exciting, it's challenging, it's enlightening for all who partake!
Congratulations Eliza! Welcome to College!