Thursday, June 18, 2009

Valedictorian with Asperger's tells graduates to be true to themselves

From the Littleton Courier:

LITTLETON, N.H. -- A musical remembrance of the Columbine High School massacre and a reminder not to label people, because those labels are often wrong, were highlights of June 14's Littleton High School graduation.

"I was born with Asperger's Syndrome," said Valedictorian Christopher Beaulieu during his address. "…Being labeled as having Asperger's, I was told I couldn't do things such as telling jokes or giving speeches. Despite those assumptions, I have earned the opportunity to speak here today. I'm saying this because I'd like to make a point about labeling."

He advised his classmates and those in the audience to be true to themselves.

"Don't be a lemming. Follow your own path, even if it means some of your so-called friends might not approve of it," Beaulieu said. He received a standing ovation.

Beaulieu was speaking to a full gymnasium, packed with families, friends and on stage with him, fellow graduating seniors. They had marched in and lined up on stage, boys in maroon gowns, girls in white gowns. They were led in the Pledge of Allegiance by Class Secretary Alana Quillin, followed by a welcome by Class President Kristine Brammer.

Brammer reflected how in one's life there might be people meant to help for specific reasons.

"They may be there to help us achieve our dreams in some sort of special way," Brammer said. "Or you may stumble upon their paths to help them in their journeys."

School Board Chairman Milt Bratz spoke to the graduates of their achievements in having such a small percentage of dropouts. The New Hampshire average is 9.7 percent, while the Class of 2009 had a dropout rate of only 4 percent, he said.

After a brief musical interlude, Principal Al Smith spoke at what he said was his 10th graduation and said the pressure on him was high to write a good speech, though the advice he said he most often received was, "keep it short." The other comment he received was about a speech several years ago when he wore the hat from "The Cat in the Hat." He joked it was frustrating that "the only thing anyone remembers is a cartoon character's hat."

On a more serious note, Smith noted that while this was his 10th graduation, this year was also the 10th anniversary of the Columbine High School Massacre, which took place in Littleton, Colo., April 20, 1999.

"It changed the way school functioned in many ways," Smith said. He brought up the massacre because the second musical piece in the ceremony, "American Elegy," was written in memory of those killed during the massacre. He mentioned it during the graduation because "American Elegy" was written "as an expression of hope as it serves as a reminder of how fragile and precious life is and how intimately connected we all are as humans."

Salutatorian Marybeth Cote had a different way of presenting her message. Saying she had always been terrified to speak in public, she played a musical piece, "You Raise Me Up," on her clarinet.