Here is the speech and the PowerPoint slides that accompanied it:
Tomorrow is a blank page, just waiting to be filled with your dreams. All you have to do is be yourself and live the story of your own unique life. Be proud. Be confident. And most of all be happy. You can spend so much time worrying about what others think of you but all that really does is stray you away from who you are. If someone doesn't want to accept you for who you are that is their problem, not yours! Be proud of who you are. Have the courage to accept yourself and not be someone that others think you should be!
This is me! My hair doesn't always do what I want it to, my eye sight isn't the greatest, I have a crooked tooth, my legs don't work, I have no balance, and I can go on but I am happy with who I am. I have embraced myself because I know all that stuff doesn't define me. My strengths, my abilities, and what I bring to this world defines who I am. Everyone has their insecurities but those shouldn't limit you. Everybody deals with something in life. My disability is visible and is a lot easier for people to deal with it because they can see it. But there is a lot of things that aren't visible that people have to deal with.
We are all perfect because we all have our individual battles we have to fight, and that is what life is all about. Life is full of obstacles and battles but you are full of the strength and ability to push through them, go over them, destroy them, or even go around them. By embracing yourself you open up a world of opportunities. If you dwell on the negatives all you will receive is negativity in life. By accepting yourself you portray positivity and will therefore receive positivity. We are given the lives we are because we are strong enough to live them. We are all different and take a different path in life and experience the world in completely different ways, which makes life so interesting and complex. I embrace myself everyday by accepting my disability and not allowing it to limit me and what I want to do in my life. Sure, there was a time where I didn't want to accept it when I was a child. I didn't want anybody to ask about it and I didn't want to have it. I would wish for the ability to walk for one day and at the end of that day I could decide if I wanted to be in a wheelchair or walk. But I got over that. I got over it by realizing all the abilities I have and learning about myself and learning that there was still so many things I could bring to the world. BHS and Saltus also played a huge part in helping me accept who I was by viewing me and treating me just like everybody else and I thank the teachers for that. They looked past my chair and disability and saw me as a person with strengths and abilities! I learned to embrace myself because this was the life I was given and I could either let it defeat me and consume me or I could conquer it. I chose to conquer it!
If I didn't accept myself I might not have become an athlete and have the opportunity to represent Bermuda in wheelchair track racing. Through wheelchair track I have traveled to some incredible places such as Australia, France, and Switzerland and I have hopes of being in Qatar this year at World Championships and then Rio for the 2016 Paralympic Games next year. I have raced on the world stage in front of 80,000 people at the London 2012 Paralympic Games and I have met some incredible people who are fighting a different battle than me everyday and are learning to embrace themselves and get on with their life!
If I didn't accept myself I might not have gone away to Brock University, where I have the opportunity to study and better educate myself. While at Brock I have gotten involved in BrockU Talks, a student run conference that showcases individuals and their passions. Last year I was asked to be a presenter at the first conference and for the last 2 conferences this past year I have been on the organizing committee. If I didn't accept myself I might not have found my passion in life through sports or wanting to become a Certified Therapeutic Recreation Specialist for my career. If I didn't accept myself I might not have discovered my strengths and abilities. For I choose to not put DIS in front of my ABILITIES!
Life will throw you some challenges and some challenging times but if you hold tight and stay true to yourself you will always be able to step up to the challenge and beat it head on. Never look at those challenges as a negative because it gives you the opportunity to become stronger, to develop and to grow. Sometimes you won't be able to change something that has happened to you, but you are able to change the way you let if affect you and by embracing yourself you will have the strength and courage to go through that and be victorious on the other side. In my life I have had over 13 surgeries totaling approximately 70 hours combined. Each of those surgeries was a very tough time for me both mentally and physically and really challenged me and who I was. But I got through them because I realized that all the hospital visits, all the pain, and all the doctors would help me in the long run be the best person I am able to be because they allowed me to improve my functioning and become a healthier and stronger person. Being an athlete also challenges me because it pushes me physically to go above and beyond my limits in order to get better. It also challenges me because I spend so much time away from home, my family, and my friends, which is very tough to do. But I know that wheelchair track is a part of who I am and I wouldn't be fully embracing myself if I didn't do whatever I could to be accomplished in it!
Part of the career path I am on involves advocating for people of different abilities and that is something I am truly passionate about and strive to do throughout my life. Disabilities are something that should be accepted and celebrated instead of being afraid of it. I encourage you to become aware of the different people in this world and to be aware that it is ok to be different. I encourage you to speak to people, to understand people, and to ask questions. I have had many instances in my life where people will not talk to me directly when they have a question about me and will talk to whoever I am with. This could be because they are either afraid, they don't know how to handle it, or they don't think I have a working brain. People with disabilities are just like everybody else. We have a heart just like you. We have a brain just like you, and we just want to be accepted and loved just like you. We need to stop viewing disability as a tragedy because it's not. It is something that the person is able to use to bring a different perspective of the world and bring different abilities and strengths into the world. After all we are just differently abled! So don't be afraid to be inquisitive and to learn because that is the best way we are going to grow and get rid of stigmas and negativity in the world because the only disability in life is a bad attitude!
Being different isn't something that you should be ashamed of. By definition different means being distinct or separate or not the same as another and that is what this world needs. Differences! Differences allow for discovery and growth. If we were all the same we would be living in a very boring world. Our differences and what makes us who we are gives us the opportunities to be happy, to learn more about the world and each other and to discover the world and our purpose in it. We need to accept each other and their differences because everybody has them. We need to stop the bullying, which is perpetuating people from not wanting to be who they are and to conform to what others deem appropriate or "normal". I hate the word "normal" because there is no set "normal". Everybody's "normal" is different and you cannot compare one person to another. My theory of "normal" is that it is simply a setting on the dryer!
We have all these incredible differently abled people in this world and we need to accept our differences and accept people for who they are. The first step to achieving that is for each of us to embrace ourselves because everyone deserves to embrace themselves, to love themselves, and not want to change or be embarrassed about who they are. There is no better person to be you than you! Embrace yourself! Embrace your life! Embrace your fears and your passions! Never be afraid to be who you are! Never be afraid to dream, to explore, to grow. Don't be afraid to be different! Life is an amazing experience that you don't have enough time to waste not being you! So, I challenge you to embrace yourself! I challenge you to think about the positives in your life! I challenge you to live your life doing what makes you happy! I challenge you to grow and discover what makes you you! I challenge you to be respectful of others! I challenge you to accept others! I challenge you to be you! After all, why fit in when you were born to stand out?
- Desire, Dream, Vision -