At Landmark School‘s recent commencement ceremony, graduate Matthew Pramas ’16 sheds light on what it means to learn differently and reminds his classmates that it can have its advantages.
I remember sitting on the swings, 11 years ago, on a beautiful spring day. My teacher let my class out to recess for the last 20 minutes of school, and we were allowed to use the entirety of the playground and field. I was minding my own business and then I looked over to my left to see, only 30 feet away, the resource room kids. They weren’t allowed to play with us; they couldn’t reach me on the swings. They were restricted to a small fire lane by the back door of the resource room. They were trapped, penned in by some painted yellow lines outlined on the ground. And I looked around the entire playground where my class was running on the field, playing on the jungle-gym, filling the air with their laughter; and then back at that tiny, quiet box the resource room kids were left in. Even then, I knew this was wrong.
In a way, I wasn’t with my usual classmates at all; I was with those resource room students. I knew what those kids were going through because, for several times a day, I was one of them. I too was restricted; I was trapped by my school and put in confining places like the resource room. My possibilities were decided by my school, and they were very narrowly defined, just like those resource room students. And just like them, my classmates and I have been defined. We’ve had decisions made for us, things chosen for us; but now, as we graduate, it’s time to make our own decisions, to be in control of our own lives. That is why we all need to find something-whatever it may be-that speaks to us, that leads us on our own journey.
We have an ability to succeed in what we want to do like few others. I wouldn’t dare say that to any other group of seniors, but we do things differently. We have always done things our own way because we have language-based learning disabilities and we have needed to find different ways of doing routine activities in order to survive in the classroom. I know that many of us would trade our disability if we had the chance because we have gone through so much, and we’re even still advised to conform to a world created by other people. People who aren’t like us. Remember, we haven’t been seen as outsiders for the things we have done, we have been seen as outsiders for who we are as people. But none of that defines us now.
We just need to know that this label we bear is not a disability, but a great ABILITY. The ability to think differently and take our own path. It is our strength.
Malcolm Gladwell argues this very point in his book David and Goliath. Gladwell talks about how people’s weaknesses can actually be strengths, and he mentions one lawyer, David Boies, who is severely dyslexic, but who turns his disability around to be an asset by memorizing every case. This has made him one of the most respected lawyers in the United States. Gladwell chose this title “David and Goliath” because in the old story, David is the young, weak boy who challenges Goliath, the strongest fighter on the enemy side, to a duel. Everyone assumes David will be easily killed as they gear the boy up with soldiers’ armor, like everyone before him. Only for David, the usual armor won’t work for him because David doesn’t fight the normal way, he uses his slingshot, which is unusual. So he takes his armor off, leaving himself completely vulnerable. We know what that feels like. Except this supposed vulnerability isn’t a weakness for David because no armor meant increased mobility, and when it came time to fight, David shot a rock in between Goliath’s eyes and won. He won because he turned his supposed weakness into his strength – into a force no one else expected.
This is our story. We are the David who can dare to think differently.
Don’t lose this ability to see different sides, think of new solutions, and use creativity to solve the difficult problems.
And as I look back in on those resource room kids, after all these years as my fellow peers and I prepare graduate, I know that this spring day liberates me to live; it no longer confines me. It motivates me to see how far things need to be taken, how much better things can be – that it isn’t pointless to make the world a better place or try to advance something just a little more for the sake of humanity. We all have this motivation, this passion somewhere. Some of us have already found it, some of us haven’t, but we all have it. For me, living means becoming a writer. It means waking up every day to channel that passion to work for justice, to fight ignorance, to do something great. We can all do great things. Because for me living means taking every opportunity, seizing every moment. It means that if I ever have the chance to grow old, that I will look back on my life and regret nothing. It means for me, at this time, being satisfied with what I did with my life and deciding to choose a way of life over a job, and a vocation over a career.
Class of 2016, we escaped from our confining places a long time ago, but there are those who never got the chance to leave. Let us prove that we are not bound by some painted yellow lines.
About the Author:
Matthew Pramas was a part of the 2016 Landmark School graduating class and was a student speaker at our recent commencement ceremony. Matt is headed to St. Michael’s College this fall.