“Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart…”Colossians 3:23
LC: July 19-22
2,500 attendees, 300 self advocates, 35 presenters and performances, 14 countries attending, 10 training tracks, 4 days! Inclusion lives here!
On Friday morning, we left at 8am and arrived at Indiana University around 1pm. I roomed with Ava and we also sat together on the bus ride down. I was so excited that LC was finally here because I had been prepping for it all summer at the office! Everything went smoothly that morning, and after we had arrived in the afternoon, everyone received their room key and we got ready for the Opening Ceremony. The Opening Ceremony was held in the auditorium, where we would also meet every morning and night before and after our daily classes. At Opening Ceremony, Anthony Kennedy Shriver welcomed everyone and there were several guest singers and speakers. Since I was in the pink group, known as “The Pink Ladies,” we all brought pink outfits, pink face paint, pink bandannas, and other pink accessories. I loved how the conference began with an opening ceremony because it made everyone feel excited about the weekend and gave everyone a chance to get to know their peers. It reminded me of a concert because there was a dance group that performed, Autism with Attitude, the first ever autistic dance group who also received 2nd place on a European dance show, that were background dancers that danced behind guest singers, while bright lights lit up auditorium and fog machines were on stage. It was so much fun! After Opening Ceremony, we returned to our dorm and prepared ourselves for the exciting weekend ahead.
After all the excitement of Opening Ceremony, Ava and I had no issue waking up at 6am the next day. We quickly got ready for the day and then met the rest of our group at breakfast. After breakfast, we returned to the auditorium, where we spent the rest of our morning listening to guest speakers until lunchtime. I loved listening to all the speakers, with and without IDD, because it truly broadened my perspective of Best Buddies as a whole since it proved to me that everyone in the world only wants friendship, opportunities, and to be loved. That morning, we heard from Samantha Cook, the YLC Chair, that spoke about the Young Leaders Council, Kevin Wanzer who is an author and spoke about how we choose to love, and Hoan Do who competed on American Ninja Warrior and spoke about courage. We also heard from Jevin Hodge, the Vice Chairman of the Arizona Democratic Party who spoke about characteristics of a leader, Soeren Palumbo, the creator of the “Spread the Word to End the Word” campaign, which began at the University of Notre Dame, and a leader of global youth engagement programs for Special Olympics, where he spoke about the Best Buddies movement statistics. Afterwards, we heard from Haley Moss, the first autistic attorney, and Scott Paton, a Doctor of Chiropractic Medicine and a graduate from the University of South Florida. Along with all of these genius and monumental people, we also heard from Rocco, a star from the show, Born This Way. Here’s a couple of my favorite quotes from the incredible speakers I was privileged to listen to:
“Accept the differences of others to help them find their own light within themselves.”
“Diversity is being invited to the party. Inclusion is being asked to dance.”
“The secret of being a best buddy is knowing that when you empower someone else to win, is actually when you’ve won.”Kevin Wansor
“What is inclusion, really? Inclusion is a transferable skill. No one is born ‘inclusive.’ [Inclusion] can be learned, practiced and taught.”
“Always proceed as if success is inevitable.”Soeren Palumbo
“Anytime you have a negative thought about yourself or your ability, tell yourself: ‘Hold up, that’s whack!'”
“The bigger the setback, the bigger the comeback!”
“Your setbacks in life don’t determine your future success.”Hoan Do
After hearing from all the speakers and then eating lunch, we attended two different classes where everyone from our state gathered into one room and listened to Tennessee’s program managers for Best Buddies. We had several helpful discussions about how to improve our chapters, how to express appreciation to volunteers, ways to be more involved during the school year, and how to use a website called BBO, which is used for registration and includes each school’s club roster. After dinner and our classes, we all returned our dorm rooms and got ready for the Friendship Walk. The Friendship Walk is where everyone from all states and countries walk together down a street at Indiana University, that leads to an outdoor concert and a fun area with games, ice cream, and music. The Friendship Walk was one of my favorite parts of LC because I loved hanging out with all of my new friends and it was so much fun!