Dear Ms. Tompson, Mr. Matz, the faculty, family, friends and, finally but not least, the graduating class of 2007. I am honored to stand before you today as a guest speaker, and, an alumnus of Widney High School. My name is Karen Lynn, and I am here today, to empower each and every one of you as you step out into a new chapter of your lives. A journey you’ll one day look back upon and think about. As you go out from these doors, a whole new world awaits you. Here, things will be quit new and different.
Some of these new experiences might be frightening and scary, while others, challenging and joyous. But it is all a part of living life. It is how you take each life experience you have, and how you grow and develop your inner character. It is the process of becoming the person you choose to become. So, don’t be frighten or nervous, and don’t let the world and others decide your course- It is your journey; that only you can decide and build upon. It is you and you alone to stare your vessel in a positive direction. It is a time of new hopes, new dreams and new inspirations. It is a time to shape, a time to build, and a time to learn and reap the fruits of your life. It is a time to stack one experience upon another like a beautiful creation.
I remember those days as if they were yesterday. I wondered what I was going to become, and how I was going to succeed in life while having Cerebral Palsy and a learning disability (dyslexia) which made learning very difficult, arduous, and grueling. It was not easy to retain information, write a clear constructed sentence, or do the simplest mathematical problems. I struggle inwardly saying little or nothing to anyone. I remember when this school was first built and when we moved from Grand Avenue and Washington Blvd. I remember these halls as if it were yesterday.
I remember the bells ringing to signal when one period ended and another one began. I remember the lunch lines, and I recall the many hours sitting in my seat, riding to and from school on an apricot colored school bus. I also remember my drivers training classes and learning to drive in driver’s Ed. I bring to mind the day I stood in front of my locker, all alone, in quiet solitude thinking… “How am I ever going to get through this next test Mr. Howard is giving in science class?” But some how I did! I also remember our basketball games, our Kodiak team, our field days, and trying out for cheerleader and our wonderful musicals Mr. Howard would bring to life. You know what else? I even remember being valedictorian of my graduating class and standing here at this same podium.
I had many challenges before me. But something way down deep inside of my being would not let me quit- I was determined. No- I was driven! And I still am to this very day. I had a tenacious desire to keep on keeping on. I had made this decision and I was never going to give up on myself no matter how tough the tough got going. So after graduating my mother and I decided it was best for me to get some guidance and help from The California Department of Rehabilitation. Maybe they could help guide me into something I loved to do. Maybe someone would be knowledgeable enough, and in tune enough, that they had the special ability to pick up on some ones needs, wants, talents and desires and direct them in a positive way to make it happen. It would have been nice to be given a chance, and to be counseled in that way, to a career of my choosing. Instead, I was evaluated.
My father had died three years earlier, and I held my head high in the same fashion as I did when he passed on. I was like a worrier, who was standing tall with her metal armor at hand and her Trojan horse by her side, while being torn apart emotionally; as I was given their decision of being labeled mentally retarded and sent to a workshop. I smiled outwardly, and did my 6 months training program, and moved on and away from this experience, but inwardly I was devastated because I knew I could learn like everyone else if only given a chance to prove myself. Even though I was scared, and tattered, I kept going. I dusted myself off, stood up tall, and held my head high with my hopes and dreams still in tack.
My mother, being the wonderful person that she was; called and set up an interview for me, with the personnel director of Ohrbach’s Department stores, on the Miracle Mile. I was hired immediately and, went to work in sales, as a sales girl. Within a short period of time I was promoted to switchboard operator. I wanted to be like any other so called “normal person”. But I was stared at, and humiliated, and looked down upon many a times. However, each and every time I was emotionally bruised and put through the test, I became stronger through each experience and each altering event.
To make my story short, at twenty-five years of age, I wanted to go back to school to attain my degree in dance therapy, Recreation and English, because I now was an assistant recreation director in a half way house for people with mental illness, and I had an enormous thirst to learn. But for a second time in a row, I was labeled mentally retarded due to another IQ test, and another counselor that just could not see beyond her confines and judgments, which does not, nor cannot depict learning disabilities. That was when she told me that if I wanted to go to college I would have to take 12 units a semester just like all the other student that took classes. I knew that that was not the truth, but a big bunch of horse manure. I left her office steaming mad. I had had enough. I was ready to take on the world. I was sick and tired of being put through the ringer, humiliated, looked down upon, disrespected, and shoved into a quiet corner where I would be a nice little girl and be a vegetable of the state for ever more. It was very easy for them to label me, because our system is specifically designed for bureaucrats that unfortunately still exist today.
I was on fire! That was when I wrote letter after letter, and made phone call after phone call with a willingness that could not be broken no matter what anyone said or tried to do. I took on the fight of my life. I was ready to challenge the system with every breath in my being. I knew at that moment that I had to make my way in this world in order to be a productive person in society. I knew that my Mama was not going to be here forever to take care of me. Thus, I had no choice but to move forward and face each and every obstacle that came in my path. I knew I had to carve out a place for myself in this world, and I knew that this was the moment. So, without any hesitation, I fought with every ounce of courage in my heart and spirit. That was the moment when I took California Department of Rehabilitation to, The Department of Health, Education, and welfare, where 3 years later, I receive the joyous news that I won the first Civil Rights Case in the state of California; and that my case now opened the doors for all disabled people under section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. I was also told by the same organization…”how could a disabled person with Cerebral Palsy teach other people to dance” Well, my dear friends, I am here today, to tell you that I do that as well- I continue to teach. I adore working with others, and I give because of what was once so freely given to me. I have been teaching adaptive aerobics since 1976, and dancing since age 3 and ½.
Whenever anyone told me I could not achieve something I wanted to do, I went out and achieved it with effort, skill, reason, discipline, and 4 courage. I did what ever It took to get ahead; including driving over 350 miles a week to get special hand-eye- ear motor coordination training. I listen to my own melody and made my own music.
I not only went back to college, after winning my decree, and received my AA degree in English, which, by the way, took me 5 years, but I laboriously worked 8 hours a day or more with my wonderful mentor and tooter. I became an advocate, for the disabled, and sat on the Executive Board of Protection and Advocacy Inc. I also won second prize in the Kaleidoscope Literary Prose Fiction Art Award of 1983 while in college. I also built my own website to help others.at:www.whispersofhope.org. And last year, I became a published author of The Broken Hoof. I believe I was given this path to shield, guard, and defend others from this terrible plot of discrimination.
I sincerely wish each and every one of you graduates graduating today a full and rewarding, prosperous life. I wish you all that you wish for yourself and more. I will close for now, but remember you can do ANYTHING you put your mind towards doing. Believe in yourself when no one else will. Just think of me. If I can do it, so can you. It’s all in the palms of your hands, in your attitude, and in the power of your own beliefs and thoughts. So go out from here today and make a wonderful, full life, to look back upon. Thank You for allowing me to share this special experience with you and taking the time to share a bit of mine. Thank you.