My first experience of disability was in first grade. I was the star student of my class, which was quite rigorous for a first grade classroom and excelling gave me such joy that I could not think of a better place than school. One day, we had a school field trip which included students from all the grades, 1-5. As a rule, we as first graders rarely got to see, much less hang out with the fifth graders and since becoming a “senior” one day was my biggest dream, hanging out near all the fifth graders all day felt super special. When we were told we would all get to
have lunch together (not separate like it usually was at school), I was ecstatic.

But when we all went to sit at the large communal table they had set out for us at lunch, I noticed a fifth grader I had never seen at school. I watched her walk off the bus and walk over to the table with the rest of her fifth grade class except that she was much smaller than them. She was even smaller than me!

Until that moment I had never seen or heard of a little person. I remember looking at her in shock. Why was her head so big? Why were her arms so short? But despite her jarring appearance to me what I noticed was the expression on her face. She looked so sad. Her head was tilted down and for the entirety of lunch, she never gazed up, not once. No one spoke to her. Her teachers or classmates barely acknowledged her. She sat there, alone, ashamed to be with her class, ashamed to be seen by us younger kids. And something about seeing her, the weight of her sadnesses, the way she didn’t look like any of us, just broke something in me. I realized that day that school wasn’t fun for everyone and that it wouldn’t matter how good I could be at school, what difference did it make when someone else could feel so bad, and not because they didn’t try or didn’t do homework, but through no fault of their own.

I’ll never forget that fifth grader or her sad eyes. She doesn’t know this and I didn’t know it for a long time either, but she played a big role in my wanting to be a teacher who works with different kids. I never wanted to see someone feel as sad as her in a school and I wanted to help. I hope she could know how important she was, even then, when all she felt was sadness.