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Eliza Schaaf - 2013 Buddy Walk Self-Advocate / Speaker

Hi. My name is Eliza Schaaf and I am excited to be here at the Buddy Walk! I live in Ashland, Oregon with my family and 3 cats. I have two younger brothers - Isaac who is a sophomore at University of Washington and Wilder who is a Junior at Middlebury College in Vermont. And then there’s me, the oldest, and I am proud to say -- I am now a College GRADUATE!!!

In case you don’t know I have Down syndrome. In some ways it makes me different than other people which I think is interesting. In a lot of ways I am the same as you - I like who I am and I like learning with my friends. I consider myself funny, smart, creative in art and friendly.

I have never thought of myself as disabled. I am NOT a disability! I am a PERSON. A person who likes to learn.

In 2010, I graduated from Ashland High School with my brother Wilder. Oh yeah! Like my brother and many of my friends, I wanted to continue my education and chose Southern Oregon University to be my college. I enrolled as a non-admitted student and took 1 class - Introduction to Ceramics - because I wanted to learn new techniques. I worked hard on all my projects. I LOVED my ceramics class!

After 13 classes and with 5 classes left, I got a letter saying I couldn't be there anymore. I was shocked and so were all 19 of my classmates. The students at SOU wanted me there, but the administration wouldn't let me. WHY NOT? I understand that I am different. But EVERYBODY is different. I am still aggravated about that. For crying out loud, I just wanted to learn with people my own age!

So… that’s what I set out to do. Over the last two and a half years many GOOD things have happened.

One cool thing was having a documentary called Hold My Hand made about me. Ruby, a film student at Chapman University and an Ashland High graduate, heard about what happened to me and came up to Oregon with James, Bobby and Vivi to do a film project on me. They filmed for 8 days! I thought it was incredible.

I also started speaking at colleges and telling people why I wanted to go to college. One of the best things is I made lots of friends - from Chapman , SOU and other schools. These friends are THE BEST! And they all encouraged me to follow my dreams and go to college.

So…maybe you’re wondering how I finally got in to college? Well, In November 2011, I spoke at the State of the Art Conference in Virginia on post secondary education as a keynote panelist. I heard about Highline Community College through Julie Jine and Jenni Sandler. They did a workshop about Highline and that got me interested in it. I was so excited when I got accepted to Highline!

Last fall, I moved to Des Moines, Washington and started college. When I first moved to Washington I was REALLY nervous. I thought it was hard at first because everything was new. But in the end it went fine. I enjoyed making friends and taking classes with them.

Some of the classes I took were Learning Styles, Self Advocacy, Career Inventory, newsletter, ceramics, yoga, Zumba ® and watercolor. I made tons of friends in these classes. Keelee, Justion and Stephanie, you’re the BEST!

I also got involved in three clubs. Leadership club met once a month and I learned how to be a better leader. Writing Club was one of my favorites and I hope to continue writing children’s stories. Cooking club was really fun and I learned how to make really good food. That was a good thing, because I had to do all my own cooking in my apartment! I have gotten MUCH better at not burning rice and oatmeal, right mom!

Speaking of apartments, I lived in my own apartment. That was challenging, but I figured it out. I met a girl named Ashleigh walking home from school and she became my roommate. I enjoyed sight seeing in Washington and going to the farmers market. I even had a volunteer job at a cat house. It was pretty cool taking care of a whole house full of nothing but cats!

I think college was a good place for me to go. I learned how to be independent and free. I also learned that having friends is a good thing. Everybody needs one and friends can help you when you need it.

I believe everybody should go to college. It’s a good place to learn, make friends and get skills for a job. If you have kids with Down syndrome, then college would be a good place for them to go to. It’s a place where you can figure out things without your parents.

On June 12, I walked with more than 500 college graduates and got my achieve certificate. Oh yeah!

In closing, I would like to share some advice with all of you.

First…to all my friends who have Down syndrome:
Dream big dreams about your future!
Surround yourself with people who can help you reach your dreams.

To parents:
Hold doors open so that we have the opportunity to learn and grow.
Be our voice while we are young and help us find our own voice.

To classmates, educators, and everyone else:
Expect us to do what you do.
Keep the bar high and don’t underestimate what we can achieve.
We are people too and we are more alike than different.
Help us learn and allow us to teach you!

Thank you so much.

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