Saturday, April 22, 2017

Of Clouds and Silver Linings

Foreword: This is the transcript of the speech given on the occasion of Optimal Academy's 2017 Commencement and Completion Exercises where our son Kevin was conferred as a graduate.

Speaking in public in not always easy, more so when it is about a topic that is so close to my heart and triggers memories that is sure to make me emotional.  In the process of writing the speech, I edited and rewrote it several times. I had to remind myself that this is not about me.  

This is in honor of a son who, every single day, had to struggle fitting in into a world that doesn't make sense to him. This is the story of his journey and the Divinely Orchestrated coincidences that steered us to paths we have taken as a family.

*****

Good afternoon to all! It is an honor to share with you the highlights of Kevin's journey leading to this blessed day.  

Let me tell you a bit about myself and our family.  I am a Chemical engineer and I work as the Supply Chain/Operations Manager in a multinational corporation.  My children grew up with my workplace as a constant, significant part of their lives.  In fact, the people I work with know Kevin and Kyla very well.   But, end of the day I am simply “Mommy Armie” to Kevin and Kyla, and the better half of whom all of you know so well as Daddy Alvin 

Kyla is our younger daughter and she grew up taking over the role of an elder sister for Kevin.  You will see her in Optimal Academy whenever she doesn’t have classes and she likes helping around.  She promised that she will continue to take care of Kevin when her father and I grow old, and while we cannot beholden her to that promise, I of course silently pray that she will continue to be the loving sister for Kevin, wherever life takes her.

Today is a very meaningful day for Kevin.   This day is the culmination of those colorful, sometimes difficult but surprisingly wonderful journeys that he had to take in his life.

11 years ago, it was Kyla’s moving up day in toddler school.  When the preparatory class entered for the graduation march, I stood there watching and I couldn’t hold back the tears.  I kept thinking that our son, Kevin, should have been there with them and we didn’t know if the time will ever come for him to march in his own graduation. 

Kevin attended Early Intervention program for nearly 3 years, and one day we were told by the Developmental Pediatrician that Kevin’s chance of being able to talk and join regular school will be very slim-- that we should consider just having him stay at home and use picture exchange communication system (PECS), and instead save the huge expenses for speech therapies and SPED.  We still followed the doctor and adopted PECS for Kevin.  But we also continued with the therapies even though it was evident that Kevin did not like it.  More importantly, it forced us to evaluate what does he need, what is most impactful to his development and where do you find that help?

The blessings came and our questions were answered.   Kevin was accepted into Kyla’s pre-school class three times weekly for socialization, music, art and PE class.  He was the oldest and tallest kid there.  Kyla’s classmates adore him, took care of him and they all call him Kuya Kevin too.  This created a world of difference to Kevin -- he enjoyed going to school, he gladly performed in the school programs, which he used to not like.  He learned from the school kids by imitating proper social behaviors.

In 2010, Kevin marched for his first graduation day in pre-school.  Everyone applauded for him when he went on stage to receive his award.  They all knew, he had come a long way.  Indeed, when a door closes, a window opens You have to also trust what your child really, truly needs.  Kevin taught us that being in a community where he is loved, accepted and where he can be happy is a powerful life-changer.

While these were all happening for Kevin, my husband and I had to make a very important decision.  My husband Alvin left his career at San Miguel Corporation and dedicated his time to be with Kevin.  It was a tough call but in the end, we both understood that it was over and beyond our individual aspirations in life.  I cannot forget what he told me, he said, “I can live with letting go of a career and what-might-have-been, but I cannot live with not doing everything that I can to help Kevin.”

Through Alvin, we learned to understand Kevin better- like why he acts or responds a certain way.  Alvin followed through at home the programs from school.   Kevin’s focus and attention span improved!   Alvin continued to provide significant inputs in shaping up Kevin’s learning program over the years.

Looking back, I strongly believe that the events in our life were part of divinely orchestrated coincidences.  In late 2010, our family moved to Singapore because of my job.  By that time, Kevin was more prepared to live outside of the Philippines because of the improvements in his adaptation.  Kevin took up Applied Behavioral Analysis (ABA) and after exactly seven days, one morning Kevin surprised us because he was able to finally communicate with us verbally!  Since then, he began to express his needs and say simple phrases… “I want to eat”, “I want to sleep”, “I want toilet”.  This validated my belief that our relocation to Singapore happened for a special reason.  

We came back to Philippines in 2013.  Kevin was already in his teens and it felt like starting all over again.  One afternoon, we visited Teacher Weng of Trails Center.  While waiting for her, I saw this yellow brochure of a SPED school.  Alvin and I thought that this seem to match what Kevin needed.  So we went there—to Optimal Academy (author's note: this is Kevin's current DepEd accredited school for special education).   Initially we were hoping that he will be able to say the ABCs but after a few months, Kevin learned to read, learned to use the laptop and copy-type and he expanded his vocabulary.  The rest as they say is history.

Now that Kevin had become a young man, we are again, in a new learning curve.  We have learned to see his individuality, understand his changing moods.  We learned when to impose authority and when to back off and just let him be. 

Kevin gave us the inspiration to never give up and that in this world, our love and acceptance is all that mattered.  We are grateful to the Lord who gave us the strength to push on, to always look forward to better days.  For giving us Kevin and Kyla, who made us better persons.

We are also thankful for the Angels around us- the teachers and educators, who have selflessly given Kevin their patience and encouragement in ways that made his life richer and meaningful.   They too, have given us hope to cling on to, during the days when the skies look overcast.

To end, I would like to share my favorite quote from a fellow parent-writer (Pinky Cuaycong) : “When the clouds are forever hiding the sun, you learn to squint your eyes and look hard for the silver lining.  And true enough, by God’s mercy, they are always there.”

From the bottom of my heart… congratulations to all of you, dear students and graduates --  PJ, Stefi and Kevin.  Congratulations to my fellow parents for reaching this wonderful milestone!   May God continue to bless us all!

Good day and thank you for listening!

The honor of giving Kevin his graduation medal belongs to his Dad.
This is his milestone too, in many ways.

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