Future Reflections Convention 2004
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The Hardest Little Thing I’ve Ever Done
by Ellen Bartlett, Kallie Smith, Anna Schuck, Christopher Dahmke, and Chris Micelli
Editor’s Note: Ellen Bartlett, a blind high school senior from the state of New York, was invited to speak on the youth panel at the 2003 NOPBC parents seminar. The topic for the panel was The Hardest Little Thing(s) I’ve Ever Done. However, circumstances conspired to prevent Ellen from being able to get to the convention early enough to participate. At my request, she sent me the speech she had prepared. It’s unfortunate that she could not deliver the speech in person, but I am doing the next best thing by publishing it for all our readers. Ellen, by the way, has been to many national NFB conventions with her parents over the years. You might say she grew up in the NFB. Her written remarks (see below) are followed by a photo report of the presentations made at the convention by panel members Anna Schuck, Kallie Smith, Christopher Dahmke, and Chris Micelli:
Ellen Bartlett: The hardest little thing I ever did was probably the first time I dove off the starting blocks at swim practice. I started swimming in the fall of sixth grade. I enjoyed it very much at the time and was looking forward to the first time I would swim in a Meet with the other kids. There was one hurdle in my way though: learning how to dive off the blocks. For the swimming illiterate, let me explain what this is like. At the pool where I swam, there is a wall at each end of the pool, about a foot high, one for each lane. This makes the top of the starting blocks about a couple feet above the water. At the time, I felt like I would lose my balance and fall into the water without preparing for it.
So it is probably very understandable at this point why I was so scared to do this the first time. When I got up on the blocks one night at practice, my coach and my dad were telling me to stand up on the block. When preparing to dive in, a swimmer stands with one or both feet at the front of the block. When I started doing this, I had both feet at the front. This is something I’ve never quite mastered, and I still mount the blocks at a bit of a crouch. Anyhow, they were telling me to stand up, and I felt so scared about falling in that I started wailing to let me get down. This must have gone on for about half an hour, but finally I went in. It was big and splashy, but I’d gone into the water.
As an epilogue, a couple months later, when I was at a swim meet, a concerned timer asked me, “Are you going to start in the water, little girl?”
I politely said, “No, I go off the blocks just like everybody else.”
Another swimming story I have is something that happened at about the same time, perhaps on the same night. Everyone in my lane had been told to cool down by swimming 100 yards. Not only did I swim the assigned one hundred yards, but I also tried swimming an individual medley for the first time. The individual medley, or IM as we swimmers like to call it, is an equal amount of butterfly, backstroke, breaststroke, and freestyle, in that order. I did one length of each, equaling one hundred yards. I found it difficult, but I wanted to see if I could do it.
We all, blind or sighted, find ourselves challenged almost every day. I know there are many sighted people out there who think that living with blindness is the hardest thing anyone would ever have to do. I personally know that it is not. Fortunately my parents do not think so either. Thanks to the education and support of the NFB and my parents, I know that any “hard little thing” I may face in the future I can meet head on and succeed at it.
“Sometimes transition isn’t about big stuff. It’s about little things. In order to make the big things happen, you first have to do the little things.”
Kallie Smith, a high school senior from Iowa, cheerfully substituted for Ellen Bartlett on the youth panel. Kallie briefly talked about her experiences in a summer transition program operated by the Iowa Department for the Blind. The “hardest little thing” she had recently learned to do, she said, was to conquer a difficult travel route to a post office in downtown Des Moines. The route included, she said, “lots of skywalks … big buildings that echo … [and] long confusing hallways.” But, Kallie concluded, “I found it and did what I had to do.” In the process, she explained, she also found her independence.
Chris Dahmke, a high school junior from Louisville, Kentucky, followed Kallie on the panel. Chris, who has partial sight, described how hard it had been to move from a public school in Nebraska to the Kentucky School for the Blind. “I really didn’t know I was blind … [and] I never knew anybody that was blind … until we moved here,” he explained. He was eleven at the time. It was a hard move, but he feels he is a better, more confident person for it. “Another little thing that I had trouble getting used to,” he said, “was working.” Chris works part-time at a pizza place. He believes the transition from sitting at home to working was critical to his independence. He described how much persistence it took to convince a prospective employer to give him a job. The next hard part was meeting expectations. “It was kind of tough,” Chris said, “to get used to having to do what everybody else does.” Figuring out nonvisual techniques and convincing your boss that you can use them to do quality work is a challenge Chris believes all blind kids should experience before they graduate. He urged his peers in the audience to “Get a job as soon as you can!”
Ten-year-old Anna Schuck of Lansing, Michigan, adds a dramatic touch to her presentation on the youth panel: she demonstrates how to blow up a balloon. “One of the hardest little things I ever did,” she proclaimed, “was blowing up a balloon.” She explained that she had wanted to learn how to blow up balloons because, “they’re for parties and my mom uses them for piñatas.” Besides, she went on, “I want[ed] to [learn to] blow up a balloon by myself because it’s fun.” Anna went on, “My favorite TV show, Cyberchase, [has] this famous quote: ‘Nothing to do, but to do it.’” And so, to the delight of the audience, she did it—blow up a balloon, that is.
The final youth panelists, Chris Micelli from Washington State, confessed that the hardest thing he did this past year was taking responsibility for “fixing [a] problem I had created.” The problem? Homework: or, as Chris explained, “my lack of doing any of it, which … teachers don’t like.” He was, he said, failing his English, math, and history classes “because I was too stupid to realize [that] not doing your homework doesn’t help your grade.” Micelli went on to say, “In the past, when this had happened in the eighth grade (because I’ve never been one to believe in actually doing homework), I had always had somebody fix it for me.” That is, he explained, his instructional assistant, Miss Mack, talked to his teachers and worked out a solution for him. However, “This year,” Chris said, “I decided to [personally] … talk to all my teachers individually, you know, to find out what I could do to fix my grade.” He did just that: talked to his teachers, worked out a solution with them, and fixed the problem. “In the end,” Chris explained, “I managed to pass all my grades.” Furthermore, Chris concluded, “A couple of them were actually okay rather than barely passing.”
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