Tomorrow marks your first day at Mother Clelia Morning Star High School. It also marks the first day of school, for anyone, ever at Morning Star High School in Pensacola, Florida. I hope you know how proud (and relieved, if I am being honest) that you have reached this milestone. I know you are anxious. I am too. Over the last week, your behaviors, and not your words, clearly expressed your apprehension and nervousness about the start of school. You reverted to your most comforting scripts, you lamented how much you wish “things” would not change, and you struggled with sleep. Classic signs that you are worried.
Under even the best of circumstances, change rocks your world, like when a class is out of sequence at school or when I buy any brand of chocolate milk other than Horizon. This year 2020, though, presented you, and the rest of the world, with almost constant change: virtual school and church, masks, no travel, college siblings at home for the longest summer ever. You expressed great excitement over “no fire drills” and “staying home all day” back in March when school was “canceled” for two weeks due to COVID-19. Surprisingly, you adjusted much better than I did. After all, I NEVER planned to homeschool. Thanks to great foresight on the part of Sacred Heart Cathedral School, we survived the end of 8th grade. You even chose to participate in socially-distanced graduation. From that day forward, we began to talk about high school, Morning Star High School at Catholic High. I wanted you to be as prepared as possible for the big changes ahead.
When we received your autism diagnosis almost twelve years ago, I did not know what high school would look like for you. Frankly, until about a year ago, I dare not let myself think about it for very long. I dared not dream of a traditional high school experience. Instead, I wished for the best high school experience possible, just as I did for BethAnne, Peyton, and Walker. I wanted you to make new friends, overcome academic challenges, and learn new life skills on the road to independence. I feared you would end up as a number in a big school, that you might be bullied, get lost in the crowd, or be taken advantage of. I feared we might have to choose between academics and life skills. I feared we might have to settle. Yet due to the amazing generosity of our community, the commitment of our Diocese and divine intervention, Morning Star High School became a reality and you are in the charter class.
I hope that our shared anxiety is unfounded, that high school is everything you, and I, hope it will be. I worry that you think it might be like Disney Channel’s “High School Musical” where Troy and Gabriella break into song and dance in the hallways. I think you will be disappointed when that does not happen. I hope that your innocence allows you to see the good times and overlook the bad, that you make life-long friends, that you work hard and you find your passion. I pray that the Catholic High students, teachers, and administrators welcome you and your Morning Star classmates to campus with open minds and open hearts. I know you have much to learn from them, but you and your classmates offer so much in return: childlike innocence, joyful noise, and friendship.
At Monday morning drop-off, when you turn to walk away into the classroom, I will not see the five foot eight inch, one-hundred-fifty pound young man walking away. Instead, I will see five-year-old Matthew walking away into a brave new world without me there to protect him. I will likely shed a tear, or two, and pray for a day full of green lights and good choices.