A Day of Celebration


Photo by Rebecca Faye Smith Galli

She did it. She wore the cap and gown.

I knew she would “graduate.” We have been checking off therapy and educational goals since she was 13 months old. From the doctor’s examination when she was 9 months old that morphed into regular developmental testing, to the Infants and Toddler’s program with its speech and language goals, to at least 15 years’ worth of IEPs, Madison’s completion of her high school certificate program at age 21 was well-documented and assured.

But the question for me was, would she be able to process with her fellow students? Would she be able to wear the cap and gown, march down the aisle, stand in front of parents, peers, faculty, and guests, and have “still hands” and a “quiet voice,” two prompts so hard for Madison to follow, much less sustain, for the entire length of a ceremony?

I could hear her before I saw her.

The room was filled. A slide show entertained us, showing the grads in all phases of their school work and life. Lots of smiles, hugs, and love beamed from that screen. My eyes already began to water.

“EEEE,” I heard from the entrance door.

“That’s our Madison,” Pat, our longtime family caregiver, whispered.

“Oh please, Missy, hold it together, sweetie,” I whispered more to myself than to Pat as I planted my nose into my camera. I just had to get one good shot of her wearing that cap and gown. We’d worked so hard for this day to come. I pinched my eyes together to focus as the first tear slipped out.

And the next thing I knew, there she was. Dressed in her purple gown, hat perched on her head with the tassel swinging, she moved in line with her class.

“EEEE,” she said again, flapping her hands to her face. Her aide took one hand and whispered something. Madison looked my direction and said, “Mommy,” in her low deep voice, and then continued with the group as they passed by us to their seats.

Madison stood tall during the Pledge of Allegiance, her hand over her heart on the silky graduation gown. She sang “The Star Spangled Banner,” head swinging her tassel to its beat.

Then the ceremony began. Each child was recognized by their primary teacher. Madison was praised for her color-coordinated wardrobe, her vigilance and polite persistence in requesting “schedule please,” and her musical abilities in both song and dance, noting her preference for Mary Kate and Ashley.

Then it was time to get the diploma. Her name was announced. She moved to the speaker to get her certificate.

Madison shook hands, turned to the audience, and gave a slight obviously well-rehearsed fist pump and then shouted I her best Barney-the-Purple-Dinosaur voice, “Hip, hip, hurray!”

The audience roared as I madly tried to capture the moment, snapping photos with the fully released tears now blinding my view.

Then she “EEEE-ed” again, and flashed her sneaky, “proud-of-herself” grin and sat back down and waited while the others took their turn. Her foot tapped her hard-bottomed satin shoes to the rhythm of each teacher’s words. I thought she would stim on the swinging tassel or try to take off the hat, but she resisted. She did hand-flap and “EEEE” a few more times, but in general she was patient and compliant until it was time to recess.

As she stood, she looked around and bellowed, “Hip, hip, hurray” once more as the group left the building.

“She’s got that right,” I said to Pat as we watched our little Madison file into the reception.

Hip, hip, hurray, indeed. She rocked that cap and gown.

This column was originally published as part of my “Tuesdays with Madison” series at AutismAfter16.com.