Yesterday was the sixth grade graduation and school assembly to celebrate the last day of the school year. Matt and I decided to create an award in Waverly's honor. We worked with the principal and came up with The Waverly McNeil Memorial Award for Kindness & Inclusion. Each year the teachers and staff will select a sixth grader to exemplifies kindness and inclusion of all students. This year, we had a hand in selecting the student with the overwhelming approval of the teachers.
We knew it was going to be an emotional day. Watching these amazing kids receive their certificate of completing elementary school and knowing I wouldn't be seeing them daily was heart wrenching. They continued to keep Wavey's spirit alive in that school. Each time I saw that was reminded of a memory or moment. I will miss their hugs and "Hi Mrs McNeil" each time I saw them.
Here is what Matt and I said in front of the school and specifically to Wavey's classmates:
Waverly started school with you in kindergarten. We remember speaking to some of you and answering your questions about her. Why didn’t she talk very well? Why did she chew on a red plastic T? As you entered second grade we came back in to talk about Waverly and Sanfilippo Syndrome. Reassuring you that it wasn’t contagious and we needed you to be her helpers. She would learn from you and you would learn from her.
In third grade you became reading buddies and signed up to read her some of her favorite books, including a worn out copy of “Sammy the Seal”. In fourth grade she started using her walker and some of you volunteered to help push her walker to the playground for recess. In fifth grade you wore purple for MPS Awareness Day and made informative videos for Inclusion Week. In sixth grade, some of you asked to have lunch with Wavey. Someone snapped a picture of that lunch date, and it has become one of our all time favorites. And then things changed.
Waverly was too sick for school, so you brought school to her. You made videos of yourselves reading books or stories and poetry you had written. You sang Happy Birthday to her dressed in all of the purple you could find.
Thank you for loving Waverly. For being her friend. For seeing her as a classmate. For facing any fears or apprehension you had. Waverly loved school and to her, school was all about the people. She lit up when she saw you.
In an effort to continue the legacy you have created, we are giving an award called The Waverly McNeil Memorial Award for Kindness & Inclusion. Each year teachers and staff will select a sixth grader who reminds them of your class, a student who was kind and included others while he or she was at Vienna. We wish we were able to present this award to all of you. This year it is our profound priviledge to present the award to one of Waverly’s favorite friends Leilani.
It was such a special moment. As I read the last 3 paragraphs I turned around to face the sixth graders. It was important to me to look them in the eyes. It was such an honor to present Leilani with this award. There truly were so many students who were deserving, but she was an easy pick. She was the first classmate to invite Waverly to a birthday party. She was a constant companion and friend. And in true Leilani fashion, she wrote about Waverly for her middle school writing sample last week.
I truly believe Waverly changed the tenor of her school. In her seven years at VES inclusion became a priority. If families wanted it, their children had access to their mainstream peers. The teachers came up with creative ways to benefit all students - reading buddies and PE peers. A father whose son spent a few years at another elementary school where inclusion was not promoted commented that "this would never happy at VES. Kids aren't segregated at VES." Amen!! So many parents came up to Matt and I after the ceremony to thank us for allowing their children to learn from Waverly. They see the benefit! Waverly made a lasting impression on their young lives. I truly believe they will carry that mission forth as they enter middle school and beyond.