I wasn't there. Only the parents had tickets. Schools aren't big enough to accommodate all the grandparents and aunts and uncles and friends who would like to be present at an eighth-grade graduation. So we get pictures and sound bites and video clips instead, which is almost like being there.
The video clip of Lucy, my just turned 15 year old granddaughter, walking across the makeshift stage in the gym of the Galvin Middle School in Canton two weeks ago, is a gift. My husband and I have watched it a dozen times and every time, it brings us both to tears.
There's Lucy in line waiting for her name to be called. There she is accepting her diploma. And there she is walking to her seat, applause propelling her, applause that goes on and on and on. Students. Teachers. Other children's parents hoot and whistle. And those sounds, all that affirmation and affection, fill us with joy.
School is not easy for Lucy. She has Down syndrome. Nothing is easy for Lucy. But her life is her life and she loves it. She loves her little room with its slanted ceiling and her big bed with its down comforter. She loves the beads she picks out and wears every day. She loves her iPad and the swing in her back yard. She loves her parents who take her to fancy restaurants and movies and almost everywhere they go. She loves her grandparents, all four of us, because death didn't take two of them from her, Heaven as real as the New Jersey town where Nonna and Pop Pop once lived. She loves her cousins and her aunts and uncles and teachers and friends. Lucy loves. And she is loved. And isn't that everything?
That's what the applause assures us.
When she was born, a doctor told us all the things that Lucy would never do. And then he told us all the bad things that statistically might happen, could happen. He never mentioned that she would, every day of her life, in some way, change people's hearts. She opens hearts. I've seen it. I've watched hearts grow because of her. I've seen wariness, stand-off-ishness turn to curiosity, turn to wonder, turn to respect because of her. I've seen young people major in special ed because of her. I've seen grumpy old men smile, because of her. I've seen her fill hearts, mend hearts.
Lucy has a sixth sense. She knows when people need a smile. And she gives them a smile. She's 15, a full-fledged teenager, and she is still smiling.
She also scowls, of course. But she doesn't scowl for long. A few weeks ago she was doing some reading and got stuck on a sentence and very frustrated. But the frustration passed as quickly as it came. A friend who was working with her, read her the sentence correctly, then Lucy read it back, then the friend said, "Good job, Lucy" and there she was, her sunny self again.
Not all kids with Down syndrome are sunny. But lucky for us, Lucy is.
She beamed clutching her diploma. She beamed a few days before at her birthday party, greeting everyone, reading every birthday card out loud, saying thank you for every gift. Liking every gift. She beams every time she gets up on a stage with a mic in her hand and sings a song.
We have these things on video, too, Lucy singing, Lucy smiling. But it's the eighth grade graduation that does us in. Inclusion is what Lucy's parents chose for her. They chose to send her to Canton Public Schools instead of to a school for children with disabilities. They chose to have her included instead of segregated. They chose to fight for services that would make inclusion work. They chose what they hope is best for Lucy.
They're still not sure what is best. Is anyone ever sure? High school looms and there are many more challenges. But what they know for certain is that it is because of inclusion that Lucy Rose Falcone is known and valued. And very much loved by those who know her best.