By Chad Hobbs
Last week, Andrea Fackler, a special education teacher with Meade County High School, invited me to join a parade they were having for six MCHS seniors. Students who are classified as special needs hold an ironic label in my mind and a special place in my heart. Anytime a child is diagnosed with a functional mental disability (FMD) such as Downs Syndrome or Autism, parents are faced with challenges that they can’t even begin to comprehend at first. We have heard of these diagnoses, but just as none of us are prepared to parent until we actually do, none of us are ever equipped until we face that moment to know what raising a child with one of these diagnoses will require. Yes, such a diagnosis brings trials, tribulations, and a required level of devotion to parenthood that many of us, even as parents, may never understand. The flip side, or silver lining, and thus the irony I find in labeling them as special needs, is that after having the great privilege of getting to know a few families and their children who are labeled as “special needs,” I can’t help but wonder, “Are the children the ones with special needs, or are they just angels sent by God to meet the special needs of us as adults?” I am on the outside looking in, so I would never presume to know or understand what any parent or child goes through in situations such as this. Despite that, however, experience has shown me that diagnoses such as Downs Syndrome are labels but really define no one. A wonderful young man I know happens to have this diagnosis, but to say it is who he is or that it limits him, would be the understatement of our lifetime. I have witnessed his love and joy for life meet the needs of many an adult, including myself, more than he ever needed an adult to meet his needs, as often as that in itself may be. So it should have been to no surprise, when I pulled into the parking lot at the Meade County Bank in Muldraugh where the parade was scheduled to begin that there were way more cars than I expected or that everyone there was nothing short of full of joy as they prepared their vehicles with green and white balloons, poster boards, window markers, and the like to make their cars look worthy of the celebration they were about to herald throughout Meade County, as their parade prepared to bring a little something extra to six seniors who had worked so hard for this moment to graduate but had also brought great joy to these faculty members who had been a part of this special journey with those students. “I wanted to do something extra special for our six seniors. I knew they missed seeing their teachers and assistants, and I kew we all missed seeing them, too!” stated Kristin Hibbard, MCHS special education department head. “So, I decided to organize a parade so that all the staff members could go along as we delivered the senior signs. Every one of our special needs staff members wanted to participate! We contacted the senior’s parents, and they were all so excited about it, too!” As Fackler pointed out, there’s a lot of seniors who are suffering this year for what they have all worked so hard to accomplish only to have it disappear with the cancelation of school, but for these six seniors, along with their parents, they have had to work extra hard to get to this moment. Many of them won’t go on to college or experience some of the milestones many parents will experience with their children after they graduate high school. Walking across that stage to get your diploma should always be a special moment, but for these six seniors and their families, this was a moment of achievement that was not to be taken for granted. So, it was all the more disappointing when it failed to manifest for them, not because they didn’t earn it but because a setback out of any of their control forced the moment to be canceled due to the pandemic. That is why when the parade pulled out of the bank’s parking lot there was a long line of vehicles forming a line full of not only faculty, but their children and spouses not to mention their friends. Despite the pandemic, no one in that parade line batted an eye at making sure, not only did each of these six seniors get a special senior yard sign with their picture and name printed on it delivered personally to their homes, but that each of them had fair warning that the parade was drawing near with honking horns and air horns blowing, as a sign and special care package was delivered to their very doorstep. “I think we really made our seniors feel extra special when they saw an 11-car parade drive up their road and stop at their house!” Hibbard explained. “Senior year is a special time and we wanted to make sure these seniors know how dear to us they really are!” The English language does not provide words to truly explain the joy, love and pride that was exchanged between those students, their teachers, their families and friends as the parade stopped at each of their houses. It was hard to tell who was beaming more: the senior, the family, the faculty or me, the complete stranger to them all. They tell me those six seniors have special needs. I stand before you all today and testify that, in those moments, they didn’t have special needs but they had a special ability to meet the needs of every adult present that day. The faculty already knew it; that’s why they were there. As the new guy on the block, I was the one more surprised than any that day. I took a break from my world of reporting, pandemics, adult ugliness in life and on social media, hard stories and all the other facts of life that us adults create to help make life a little less enjoyable and was rewarded with a group of students, their families and MCHS faculty that met my special needs, saturating me with an experience of love, joy, gratitude, and so many other feel good words that I’m not sure I’ve ever experienced to level I did that afternoon when I got to witness the bond and excitement at seeing each other again that I witnessed between these students, teachers and families. And I was just an outsider blessed with the opportunity to look in. Congratulations to these students, their families, and the teachers and assistants who have worked so hard to make sure Jacob Kessinger, Kaleb Dieckman, Ethan Mattingly, Ben Delmore, Erica Jones, and Kaitlyn Knauber are members of the 2020 graduating class of Meade County High School.