Valedictory Address – Mathias Kools

Photos by Kenan Cooper – The Reading Post

My fellow high schoolers. We stand on a precipice of change this charged afternoon. This is the sunset of childhood and the dawn of a new pursuit of happiness. Unfortunately, this means we will be leaving the watchful guidance of our mentors and guardians come this fall (thank you, parents and teachers). Many of us are excited for this moment. But for me, I’m worried. Looking out on the nighttime skyline of Boston the other night during the boat cruise, I couldn’t help but feel “sorrow” at the thought of “the trials of tomorrow”. (Kid Cudi, Pursuit of Happiness) Being independent means leading our own lives but being independent also means dealing with our own challenges. Life is hard and there will be hardship. Life is hard.

I want to use this speech to commemorate a student who has met those challenges. I want to honor my schoolmate because he lives as an example for all of us to follow as our own adversities ensue. He is someone who’s ambition has no bounds, lives fully, and has worked hard every day for the privilege of independence that we now inherit on this day. Each year, students are asked to write “This Believe” essays for their English classes to share their own unique perspectives, stories, and most importantly beliefs. I wanted to share this student’s essay, that he so graciously gifted to me, because it gives me hope that I can, that we can, like this student, shine in the face of our own trials.

He writes.

I believe it is possible to overcome challenges [because] I have cerebral palsy. My entire life I have tried to overcome this. You know that old saying, “use it or lose it”? This is very true for me. I can’t walk, so I have to think about it when I stand and when I [use my gait trainer]. My trunk muscles are weak enough so that I have to think about sitting up straight. I wear a body jacket to help with this problem. I also have to stretch my muscles in my arms and legs and go to therapy every week, once for OT and once for PT.

CP affects me mostly physically, but one mental thing is it takes me more time to do things. Even answering a question may take a little extra time. As a result, a quiz or test may take me more than one block to complete.

And this is when his essay begins to flourish with bright, shining hope for the better. Listen.

[ … ] sometimes we have to be creative in other ways. For example, regarding my school schedule, I have a reduced course load to allow time for therapy. I use an iPad and computer for typing because it is a better option than writing for me. We altered my electric shaver and toothbrush so that I could use it more independently. My dad had to invent some footstraps for my wheelchair because it did not come with any. My mom made an iPad stand for a tabletop. We have also been trying to build an iPad holder for my wheelchair out of PVC pipes. Even seemingly small changes can have a big impact on my ability to do things independently.

He teaches us that even the little things in life won’t come easy. The small things we take for granted now, will present their own technical and mental challenges in the future. We will all need to think creatively to get to tomorrow. He can teach us a lot of about life, but only if we listen.

He continues.

“There are positives and negatives to how society treats people with CP.” For example, “I have some opportunities that not everyone has. I get to go to the Malden Special Olympics, which is fun. last summer I participated in a clinical study on robot-assisted movement, which was only or people that might benefit.” On the other hand, “some of my teachers have been a little impatient and given me the, answer despite the fact I knew it in my head.”

He goes on.

I am always trying to find ways to be more independent. I am a hard worker and I am determined to make the most out of my abilities and do what needs to be done. My options are becoming better all the time with new technology. Therapy is now available using robot-assisted movement. There is also a possibility of a wheelchair that can climb stairs. Exoskeletons are being tested. In theory, they could help people like me walk on their own. Looking forward, I feel confident that I will find new ways to overcome some of my challenges from cerebral palsy.

This confidence gives me confidence. Like this student, if we put in our own share of hard work… if we put faith in ourselves … if we think creatively around the complications we face then our generation will rise to the highest of heights. Our futures are in our hands. Thank you.

That student is here with me now. Give a hand for Dan Teixeira everybody!

Thank you, Mom. Thank you, Dad. Thank you, Bram. Thank you to my friends. Thank you to RMHS.

Thank you, Dan.

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