I’m extremely honored to be able to speak about what Areté has meant to me and to thank Jim for suggesting I give a speech at graduation.
We endured more than eighty days in captivity, class in pjs, protests, looting, Covid-19, real and media induced hysteria, changes in our daily routines, and the government imposed restrictions on our interactions with our family and friends. I think these are horribly drastic measures to go through in order to get a bunch of teenagers to vote in their first presidential election and to be grateful for the opportunity that was afforded us when we attended Areté at 11500 West Olympic Boulevard.
I don’t know what paths you took or how trying it was for each of you to be able to earn your high school diplomas, mine has been a laborious trek.
My parents had me attend a “bridge” class for the year between Pre-K and Kindergarten in hopes that some of the abilities that were taken from me when I became a prisoner to autism would return. I’ve been in search of ways to grow despite the loss of muscle tone, verbal language, propio septic awareness and the benefits of motor planning. My family found all sorts of therapists to work with me. I was placed in “Special Day Classes” by LAUSD because of my differences. That track felt like remedial punishment. The philosophy was that they would not teach new things until the student can demonstrate knowledge of the initial lesson. Autism is an output disorder, I could take in everything around me but I had difficulty communicating my knowledge in the traditional ways. I recall my mom pleading with the principal of one of the many schools I attended to accept a signed document stating that she wanted the school to “Leave her child behind.” She was not granted that request and I was stuck with baby work for years. I was not able to express myself verbally anywhere close to grade level but was ultimately able to cry “no school no school I no like-A school” daily during our drive to school. Fast forward to my 7th Educational venue and all I want is to learn as much as possible.
I was fortunate enough to get accepted to Areté in November 2018. I had been at a school in The Valley that ended up closing mid semester at the same time as taking an anthropology class at Valley College that wasn’t over until late December. The Areté faculty worked with me and eventually I got into the rhythm of learning and “Krewzing.” In lieu of fall finals I found myself thrust into participating in something called a senior master class.
I researched some of what Immanuel Kant had written about different types of truths for my presentation. Symposium turned out to be the best vehicle for me to showcase my knowledge and abilities. It was a bit stressful preparing for and actually presenting my thesis but it was also incredibly rewarding. Both the faculty and students recognized my abilities and welcomed me into the world of Areté through praise and academic discourse.
I am grateful to the many people who have helped me express myself so my thoughts and voice could finally be heard. You have met some members of my support team. I want to thank Darlene Hanson, Jeff Sanders and Chelsea Enos for enabling me to communicate with the world around me. I want to thank the faculty at Areté for their effort to find ways to include me in classes. They have fought for me to get a meaningful education and work tirelessly to support me and thrive in a world that fears or feel threatened by people who appear different from the way they view themselves.
Chelsea joined us on the school trip to Santa Cruz Island. She helped me participate in the fireside storytelling festivities. Being able to add my ideas and humor made this trip unforgettable. I roasted marshmallows with the best of them and showed how perfect s’mores are made and consumed.
The poor faculty members tried their best to assemble 45 teenagers to breakfast and the boat on time, an absolutely impossible dream. Somehow we managed to create friendships the Natural way with dirt, sand and pieces of food stuck to our clothes.
Back at the Olympic homestead we’d gather each week in the lounge where the faculty gave details about upcoming events. I always enjoyed when the entire school met in the same space.
I am blessed to be in school with cool bright quirky kids who patiently and kindly include me into their world. I was thrilled when the Wednesday Lunch Bunch invited me to join them on their off campus lunch excursions. My biggest complaint about this government imposed in home incarnation is the inability to hang out with my Areté family. I would love for everyone who is able, to join me for a real in person celebration once we are Free from the restraints of our sentence.
The Areté community embraced me and my challenges. They worked hard to find ways to include me in class discussions and enable me to communicate during the learning process alongside my peers. This was a strain on the teachers and other students and I want everyone to know how grateful I am to all of you for your patience and understanding. I also want to give a special thank you to my communication partners, Jeff Sanders and Chelsea Enos. Your patience and support enabled me to access the curriculum and engage with the people around me. I want to thank my amazing family for their love, strength and perseverance. I would not have reached this milestone in my life without their belief in me.
I have found with the support of others anything is possible. I say we stay connected on social media and recognize the Areté community is always there for you especially when you find yourself hanging from the cliffs of Rockreation.
Thank you for listening to my path to freedom.
Jeffrey D., Areté ’20
Jeffrey hopes to take his education out into the world to advocate and educated on autism issues. Read more about our interview with Jeffrey HERE