As April ends—and with it so-called Autism Awareness month—I thought it would be appropriate to discuss discrimination against people on the spectrum and how it seems to apply to my beloved daughter, Sarah. Early last month, Sarah auditioned to sing the national anthem at graduation as part of a choral group at her college. Given that she has perfect pitch and tremendous range as a lyrical soprano, it was both surprising and disappointing that Sarah was not selected. To those readers who know both me and my daughter, I think you’d agree that I’m extremely objective about Sarah’s strengths and weaknesses. Hopefully, everyone else will give me the benefit of the doubt.
While legislation on banning affirmative action in various states is front page news, the articles never include any discussion about students with disabilities. Isn’t it equally important to include disabled students as it is to embrace all races and gender identities as part of a group? Don’t disabled students deserve representation as much as any other minority in order to have an optimally diverse student body? The following email protesting my daughter’s rejection was my small effort at affirmative action. (All names with asterisks have been changed).
My daughter, Sarah Edelman,* auditioned for you to sing the national anthem at graduation, and by now it’s clear that she wasn’t selected. This is deeply disappointing to her and to me, especially given the fact that she is a senior graduating from the university’s autism support program with a 3.6 average. More importantly, my daughter is a lyrical soprano with perfect pitch and an extraordinary voice. I understand–as does Sarah–that given the challenges of being on the autistic spectrum and having learning disabilities, she was never going to succeed in her auditions to be a musical theater major. She will never be an actress in one of Shakespeare’s plays or appear on Broadway. That did not stop her from auditioning, despite never being called back. But why not allow her this one last opportunity, and include her very special and beautiful voice at graduation?
However, I find it hard to believe (and hypocritical) that a university like Penema, which supposedly values diversity–enough to include an innovative and successful program to support high-functioning students on the spectrum–would not include a student like my daughter to sing the national anthem.
Just imagine my frustration as a mother in trying to nurture the musical talents of my daughter at a school that refuses to recognize or include her in her last opportunity to show the world what she can do best.
As Laura could tell you–and probably did–my daughter shows up, follows directions, picks up a song after hearing it once, and is fearless in front of an audience. In addition to working with Laura, she’s had professional voice training for many years and sang in the choral group at Landmark for two years. Sarah would really bring something special to the stage at graduation and give you as good or better performance than those you have already chosen, while at the same time demonstrating the school’s commitment to students with disabilities.
I would love for you to reconsider and somehow find a place for Sarah. It would mean the world to her in a world where opportunities for people like her are few and far between. However, if it’s too late to include her, I hope–at the very least–to receive the courtesy of a candid response.
Sarah accepted the consolation prize of singing for freshman AFTER she graduates. (It’s better than nothing). However, in writing back to Carolina, I couldn’t help feeling puzzled and disappointed. If Sarah is talented enough to sing in September, why not in May at graduation when it would be so much more meaningful to her and her family? And why tell me that another student on the spectrum has won an award? How is that relevant? Am I supposed to feel better that another student with autism was honored for some other reason, while my daughter was overlooked? Or is this supposed to prove that the school honors the spirit of diversity because a student with disabilities won an award?
Yesterday my daughter was notified via email that she will graduate with distinction because her GPA is above 3.5. Numbers don’t lie and our daughter can’t be denied.