Saturday, March 19, 2011

A Day of Transformation

Cotting School in Lexington, MA invited me to speak on March 17 for their career day. I didn't remember to bring a camera, so I pulled the video above from their website so that you might get a sense of the school. Cotting services children with (as quoted on their website) "a broad spectrum of learning and communication disabilities, physical challenges and complex medical conditions." Established in 1893, and founded by two orthopedic surgeons from Children's Hospital, it was the first free, private day school for children with disabilities in America.

When I was asked to speak, I thought it would be in a classroom, but later I found out the event would take place in the auditorium. Eep! There would be over 100 people in the audience I wasn't quite sure how to interact with. And I would be observed by people who were experts at interacting with them.

My friend, Cotting's art teacher, once showed me assistive devices she created for students who were not able to hold a pencil or brush for example. Her students have produced remarkable that so emanated love, I struggled to fight back tears during one occasion when I visited the school's annual art show.

So I began to prepare a presentation, on my work and illustration in general, not quite sure how to approach this. They were middle and high school students. Could I arouse their interest and encourage confidence in illustration as a viable career choice?

The day arrived and though I had spent countless hours preparing, nonetheless, I felt as if I wasn't ready. A nagging feeling surfaced that I would have to adapt as I went along. Much of my preparation may have to go out the window.

From my seat in the audience, I was able to observe three speakers that came before me as well as students, and staff. Some students, unable to use speech, had to type their questions and comments into assistive devices attached to their wheelchairs. Students with muscular control issues, had an added challenge. Teachers were at the ready to help if needed. Speakers stood quietly by until the question or comment was delivered. Success was consistent. Good will was palpable. Exchanges were thoughtful, insightful, and humorous. I was swept away by all of it.

After the three speakers finished there was a snack break. Wheelchairs zipped out of the auditorium and I had to watch my step. I was to speak next and somehow I knew everything would be so much more than ok.

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