November 19, 2018

Pomp & Circumstance for all

It’s been a sad few weeks, with both public and personal mourning, and I wanted to reflect back on a lingering sweet moment from a few weeks ago—our son, Danny’s graduation from Fairfax High School in Los Angeles, “home of the lions“. Opened in 1924, this historic high school was one of the first large high schools in Los Angeles, and has a long list of notable alumni including musician Herb Alpert, former LA County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky and members of the Red Hot Chili Peppers band.

Danny, along with five other seniors from two special education classrooms, was fully included in the Class of 2016 Graduation, which took place at the West Los Angeles Cathedral, an enormous mega-church in the Crenshaw district. When we first arrived at the venue, with huge lines of family and friends snaking around the block, we learned two important things: first, the disabled lift from the backstage to the stage was broken, despite numerous attempts to fix it earlier in the day, and second, Danny was slated to be at the very front of the procession, leading everyone in using his walker. He would be accompanied by his special education teacher for the past 7 years. Yes, you read that number correctly; because federal laws require that special education programs extend to age 22, students like our son stay in the public special education system until they turn 22.

Instead of a high school diploma, Danny received a Certificate of Completion as laid out in his annual Individual Education Plan (IEP). After he turns 22 in November, all of his funding and services will come from the CA Department of Developmental Disabilities and the Regional Center system, and we are fortunate that a local nonprofit provider, ETTA, is operating a Community-based Day Program just a mile from our home. Because of these separate funding streams, the State of California wants to keep kids in public special education for as long as possible, so Danny will return to Fairfax High School in September for one final semester.

Nonetheless, this June graduation was his one chance to wear a cap and gown and as they say, “walk the stage”.  Most of the time, Danny is very reluctant to wear any type of hat due to his sensory issues, but he liked the way he looked in the mirror the night before with his cap, and somehow his sister convinced him to put on the gown as well. So walk he did, as the shortest, and one of the oldest graduates, accompanied on the stage by his long-time aide, who carried Danny behind the stage due to the nonfunctioning lift. As Danny used his walker to slowly walk over to the principal and receive his Certificate, the crowd roared its approval, and it was a perfect moment in time.