My LAST COLUMN for the Daily Cal
I realized what defined my undergrad experience was not only recognizing some of these opportunities but that it was the support and encouragement at Berkeley that gave me the confidence to pursue them.
I never felt impostor syndrome at UC Berkeley. Rather it was whether I, as a disabled student, would even be allowed access to the opportunities college offers. ....
For much of my life, my disability has meant significant gatekeeping of opportunities. Would I be allowed to thrive here?
“Education is the kindling of a flame, not the filling of a vessel,” said Socrates.
Most importantly, my UC Berkeley education kindled the Socratic flame, inspiring me to study what I am passionate about along with new kinds of experiences and knowledge. (Speaking of new experiences, I even got to model for the Cal Student Store. Who would have thought of “Model Hari”?)
“Life is full of change and uncertainty and that’s what makes it a great adventure,” Filippenko said at the lecture.
I am both nervous and excited about what’s ahead. As the Bhagavad Gita explains, change is the only constant in our lives, and one is better off focusing on the action (the sure) and not the results (the unsure). Inaction is not an option.
The Gita also points out that results do not solely depend on my actions. I hope the next stage of my educational journey will be one filled with kindness, compassion, patience and empathy from others and one of personal, endless curiosity and positive action so I can continue to learn and add those pebbles that widen the ripples in the pond of knowledge and change.
Another piece of good news. I'm a university medal finalist; in the graduating class of 11,000 students across all disciplines. Berkeley has been good to me.
What character or experience sets the Class of 2022 apart?
“Resilience in readjusting back to a world of many new normals and new possibilities. For instance, it has been a bit harder to sit in a physical classroom now; it’s like many social skills built up over the years got lost in the void of a two-year lockdown. My motor system is in an uncertain state, at best, so there is a bit of a relearning curve involved for many like me. There are, however, many positives in our new normal, such as the possibility for remote or hybrid employment and education, which will benefit so many disabled folks like me.”
What has been a challenge you faced at Berkeley and how did you address it? “I loved that at Berkeley I was surrounded by non-judgmental peers who were open to inclusion, except they often didn’t know how to include, a major reason being they have not been exposed to many spoken communication-challenged autistics like me at the college level. My navigating Cal meant thinking of solutions from two ends — for me, personally, and strategies as to how others in that group could go about including me. An example is that I took on the introduction part in the debate team in professor David Presti’s introduction to neuroscience class instead of attempting the later rounds, which required more rapid responses. So I was part of the team, contributing, instead of just existing on the sidelines. This has obviously been easier in structured academic situations than in social settings.
You held me in your arms, oh mother mine
When I was a mere wrinkled newborn babe
You gazed at me with love and joy
Just as all young mothers do.
I walked my first step and said my first word
With pride, you watched my every move
You expected me to walk the predictable path
Just as all young mothers do.
You watched me slip and slide away
Wondering why I didn't do what other kids do
I stopped making eye contact with you
And stopped the spoken words too
A well of sadness entered your eyes
The smile not always in place
Perplexed and puzzled
Do I know this child of mine at all?
But, you rolled up your sleeves
You never gave up on me
You took the other fork on the road
The one without the map
You struggled and searched for solutions
You fought endless battles for me
You put your fists up and took a stance
And you never gave up on me
Lost in the desert of sadness
You changed your perception of things
You summoned new strength and courage
From the unfathomable deep
You changed your whole life for me
And, you never gave up on me
You coaxed every small victory out of me
Pride overflowed from your eyes
Steps of this extraordinary child
Of quite the extraordinary mom
You do the job of a dozen people
And you never gave up on me
Exhausting is the journey you're on
Exhilarating only some of the time
I am not the typical child you thought you'd raise
New challenges lie in the path every day
To the extraordinary mom who holds my hand
And who never gave up on me.
I wrote this poem sometime during high school. But I feel it is still so relevant even today. This poem is dedicated to all those wonderful and amazing moms and dads and parents out there who did not give up on their disabled child. Thank you for your dedication and fortitude, in rolling up your sleeves and taking on the world for us, without even knowing how to go about it.
I think back to the story of the frog who climbed to the top of the well amidst discouragement from the crowd that the task was impossible; turns out the frog was deaf so had not heard the discouragement, so made it all the way to the top.
This is what parents of the children seen as having more challenging disabilities face every day. From the get go, they are nudged to tone down expectations of their children, not to expect much. Lady Liberty did not hold up her torch of the American Dream for that child.
Over the years, I have seen many of my peers disappear one by one into the void of the system (out of sight and out of mind of society), as the once eager and enthusiastic parents reach a state of burnout and exhaustion, with this constant barragement of discouragement and lack of support. Other adult peers who have aged out of the special education system are sitting at home with their aging parents as adult day programs want “easy to manage” adults (sheep!!), even as there is a dearth of support systems for the ones with “behaviors.” It is like a battle for the classroom placements and supports during the school district years, starting all over again in adulthood for many.
Thank you to all the extra-ordinary parents out there, for your support and embrace, when the world seems to abandon us at every new stage, not just when we were children but as adults and possibly even when we are middle aged. For many with more significant disabilities, our parents and siblings are likely the only family we will ever have. I wonder who will be there as this lifelong pillar, when we are senior citizens ourselves, where we are not just battling aging issues but also the nature of our disability may mean that not all of us reach a level where we are able to take care of ourselves and have to depend on the largesse of paid staff for a decent quality of life.
Parents, Yours is truly a dedication of a lifetime. Thank you.
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Dedicated to the EXTRAORDINARY MOMS and DADS and PARENTS out there, on behalf of your extraordinary child. You Never Gave Up on Me You...