This past summer has been one of milestones. Along with my own Masters graduation, my sister graduated from high school in two different ceremonies. For those of you who do not know, my sister has mild mental retardation. She does not always know how to think about herself, because she isn’t “normal,” yet her developmental disabilities are not as severe as most of her peers.

Her first graduation was at the private school she attended for high school. It concentrates on special education and has been wonderful for her development. The ceremony was intimate, and my sister spoke to the parents and teachers about her gratitude and aspirations, like attending the community college special education vocational program. I admit, as with all her ice-skating and music recitals, I teared up.

The second graduation was at the public school she is zoned to. She wanted to attend this ceremony because it was what a “normal” teenager would do. My sister has sat through three of my graduations, all of which were large, extravagant events. She understood and craved the ceremonial rite of passage of hearing her name, walking across the stage, and receiving her diploma. So my parents worked with the school and the school district to ensure her right to walk across that stage.

Thus, after 21 years, my sister graduated from high school. To be honest, I really never thought this day would arrive. The day she would finish school. The day she would decide she must go to college. The day she would move out.

My sister’s graduation and move are just a small part of our story. My family has come a long way — from bearing the burden alone and not knowing what to do, to creating a nonprofit organization and interacting with other families openly. And my sister, well, she is making decisions. She is moving into a group home and continuing her education.

Of course, none of this has been easy. Even though moving to a group was my sister’s wish, she is met with mixed feelings about it. She understands this is a necessary step into her future, but at the same time she is uncomfortable with so much change. It’s nothing we haven’t seen before — when she switched schools or a friend moved away — so we know she will adjust and be happy. As will we.

There are many families with stories of sons and daughters who were able to reach these accomplishments and make transitions successfully. I hope that they all share their stories, because I believe that this support, sharing, and understanding is what helps other families with similar situations make it through. It certainly helped mine.

It took my family over a decade of strength, perseverance, and openness to just get where we are today. Sometimes things work, sometimes they don’t. But as parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, sisters, brothers, and friends, we all have to make the journey together. It will never end, but it will always be worth it.


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