Holmdel grad in wheelchair shouldn’t blame superintendent for her problem (Opinion)
When Lily Portmann, a senior at Holmdel High School was unable to get up the ramp for the graduation ceremony to accept her HS diploma on stage, the family had to blame someone. And so the scapegoat was Dr. Robert McGarry, the superintendent.
In my mind, it’s completely unfair that Lili’s mother and sister posted on their Facebook page that Lili was “not allowed” to accept her diploma on stage. That is simply untrue. I believe that sometimes families who are saddled with an unfortunate circumstance like Lili's illness and her confinement to a wheelchair want other people to suffer along with them.
I know that sounds like a harsh statement, but I feel that by saying “You are the superintendent of an extremely wealthy district. Is it not your job, are you not there to acknowledge every student and congratulate them on their accomplishments? Let’s just say she couldn’t go up the ramp. It was absolutely impossible for her to come to that ramp. Wouldn’t you recognize that?” as Lili’s mother, Tracy Welch did, the Portmann family is asking too much of Dr. McGarry. (What does an “extremely wealthy district” have to do with it, by the way?)
It is possible that during a very busy graduation day, he simply did not notice amongst all the graduates that Lily was having a problem getting up the ramp to the stage. There but for the grace of God go I that my children have not been in a wheelchair for their entire lives.
However, I do have a daughter who attended her HS graduation in a wheelchair. After surgery to correct a birth defect of her leg, my daughter was confined to a wheelchair for a year, and then on and off for the following two years. And at 16 years old, it was Hell on me and the entire family. When she got up to make her speech at graduation, she was assisted onto the stage and was, thankfully able to stand holding onto the podium.
I understand that Lili’s situation is much worse. Although I cannot fathom what it would’ve been like if Mary's ordeal had lasted her whole life, I will tell you that during that year (or two or three,) I accepted all of the inconveniences that went along with it. Though we often became frustrated, I never asked anyone to go out of their way for her (although many people did.) I never asked for special accommodations (although many were made). I never wanted my daughter's problem to become anybody else’s.
The point is that when you least expect it, people will be kind and accommodating. You would be shocked at the lengths to which people will go to help out a person who is disabled, especially one who is visibly disabled such as one in a wheelchair. You generally don’t even have to ask. To become demanding only turns people resentful. I think Dr. McGarry deserved a reminder right before the ceremony.
When the parents saw that Lily was unable to make it onto the stage perhaps they could have asked someone to tap Dr. McGarry on the shoulder and remind him of the problem, or enlist the help of people around them. Alternatively, instead of turning Dr McGarry into the bad guy and Lili into the victim, they could’ve given him the benefit of the doubt, accepted that sometimes bad things happen and show Lili that she could gain strength from her ordeal. But that’s just me.
As I see it, that’s how you turn a disabled child into a positive, loving person who looks for the good in people as opposed to a bitter and angry person who asks “why me?”
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