Thursday, May 25, 2017

SAIL Transition Program - Graduation Speech 2017

I was in the SAIL transition program from 2010 - 2012, and was invited to speak at the graduation breakfast for students graduating May 24th, 2017.

I had a great time and enjoyed meeting new students and the staff!

[ Transcription Below]

The SAIL (Students Attaining Independent Living) transition program is a community-based, life-skills program for students ages 18-22. The goal of the program is to prepare students for the transition from public education to adult living at age 22. The program uses supported real-life experiences to facilitate the development of independent adult skills. As appropriate, students practice their independent skills in community settings. Program components include daily living skills, personal social and social language skills, vocational training, money management, consumer foods, communication skills, community and career exploration, recreation and leisure, and volunteerism.


(Written by Alyssa Huber)

"How do you define success? What does it mean to you?

Maybe it's becoming famous, inventing something, getting a job, or learning to drive.

Maybe it's making friends, or just getting out of bed in the morning to push through one more difficult day.

I think that success is an ongoing journey that looks different for everyone.

For me, my story is inseparable from my success.

I decided from a young age that I really wanted to make movies. I wrote a script--a pretty bad one, honestly--I was only 10 yrs old. I never did make it into a film, but that it did spark my interest in making movies.

After I started going to Middle School, I was diagnosed with Asperger's Syndrome. The teachers noticed I was a bit... different. Like, when they called on me in class, I would reply with *meow* since I was obsessed with cats at the time.

School was so overwhelming for me that I had meltdowns when I got home, and a few times I even kicked holes in the walls. I was just so exhausted from trying to put up a brave front every day.

When I was a teenager: I was socially awkward and had trouble making and keeping friends. I was very anxious and depressed a lot, and I felt lost and alone.
I mention these dark times because success can't happen without 2 things:
1. Failure
2. Struggle
...and I had a lot of both.

In spite all of that, I did make some friends. I finally got to know enough people to have a small cast for a movie. So I teamed up with friends to produce an amateur film called "Cursed Waters," a comedy adventure about pirates. It's not my best work, but it was a lot of fun, and a good filmmaking experience.

When I got to the SAIL program, I made friends more easily. I learned how to be a good friend and an example of good student--though I did cause trouble sometimes!

My favorite day was cooking day, because we got to eat the food we made!

I loved the SAIL program and my friends, so much that I made a short video series about our shenanigans. (It's up on YouTube)

I started college at Judson University in 2012 and recently graduated with a B.A. in Media Creation & Production.

And I’m currently in the process of finding a suitable job in my field.

While I was still in college, I produced a documentary on Asperger's Syndrome and autism, titled "Through Our Eyes: Living with Asperger's." I would say that my documentary is one of my greatest accomplishments, because it's helped a lot of people who have watched it. In fact, it's received almost 500,000 views since I've posted it on YouTube in 2015.

A lot of people equate success with happiness, but something I learned is that the traditional idea of success--like getting lots of views on YouTube--is not the key to happiness. My documentary did help my confidence, but there's more to it.

I wanted to share what I've learned in my journey so far.

My first step to success was taking care of myself (physically and mentally). If I'm not feeling well, it's really hard to do well. I've worked hard to establish healthy habits like getting enough sleep, eating balanced meals, exercising, advocating for my special needs, and addressing underlying health problems so I can feel my best.

Another thing I learned is... do not underestimate your value. Like any other person, you deserve to live, and to be loved and supported. You deserve to be hired for jobs, and to make a living. To have friends, and to have fun.

It doesn't matter if you have a disability, a health condition, or other limitations; you are just as awesome as anyone else!

Also, always do your best. Not my best, not Anne's best, not someone else's best, YOUR best. Don't compare yourself to other people.

If your best means getting out of bed in the morning, or getting out the door on time, or being brave when you have to make a phone call, or go to the doctor, your Best is just as good as anyone else's Best.

Wherever you are in life, always look for the positives. I guarantee that if you look, you will always find something good ; even in the darkest places. Whenever you feel upset, or unmotivated, or if you get stuck in your journey to success, take a deep breath and look at the beautiful world around you.

Also, always believe you can be better. The best thing about being imperfect, is that you can always improve. Like, if I've been skipping my daily workout, I make myself do it next time. Or, If I've being hurtful with my words, I try to be better by thinking before I speak. Or if I feel alone and don't know what to do, I see my therapist who can help me get back on track.

The last important lesson I learned is... don't be afraid to lead your own life. You are an adult now, and your own person, and you can make your own decisions. It's good to ask for help; though you ultimately decide what advice to take. You are in control your life.

As you graduate from the SAIL program and head towards your future, Be proud of who you are and what you've done in your life. Reflect on your happy memories, accomplishments, and friends you've had. Take what you've learned and use it to reach your dreams."

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