Raising and achieving aspirations—Next Steps at Vanderbilt 2016 Graduation

Left to right: John Moore, Conor Dolan, Nicholas Villarreal, Jamie Galvin, and Bryshawn Jemison

The achievements of five graduating Next Steps at Vanderbilt students were greeted by the applause of family and friends on April 27, and celebrated in the remarks of Next Steps graduate Jamie Galvin, Ambassadore Michael Flom, and Next Steps faculty director Erik Carter, Ph.D.

Achievements of Next Steps graduates

Conor Joseph Dolan, from Deer Park, Illinois, completed internships in VU Athletics Communications, VU Football, VU Recreation Center, and Special Olympics Tennessee. His Capstone project connected his passion for sports with advocacy by creating a video showing how staying connected to Special Olympics benefits adults with disabilities.

Nicholas Graves Villareal, from Millington, Tennessee, had internships with the VU Post Office, the Science and Engineering Library, and McKay’s Bookstore; and he volunteered with La Bonheur Children’s Hospital, the YMCA, and a United Methodist food pantry. He will be working at the Fairfield Inn and Suites.

Bryshawn Maurice Jemison, a Nashville native, enjoyed internships with the VU Police Department and VU Football, and is blazing trials for future Next Steps students as a work trainee in the Walgreen’s REDI program, which he is continuing following graduation.

John Michael Moore, from Irondale, Alabama, participated in internships with the Occupational Health Clinic, Tennessee Disability Pathfinder, and The Arc of Davidson County. His Capstone project involved creating cartoons geared for younger children aimed at preventing bullying.

Jamie Anne Galvin, from Gallatin, Tennessee, enjoyed internships with the University School of Nashville, the Susan Gray School for Children, and the Summer Academy. This experience has prepared her for work at the YMCA in child care, her career interest.

“We did it!” – Jamie Galvin, Next Steps graduate

“We did it” were the opening words of Jamie Galvin to her fellow Next Steps graduates. The following are excerpts from her remarks:

We got to be like everyone else and go to college. I have been dreaming about college all my life, and have been Anchoring Down for Vanderbilt since I was 3 years old. Those acceptance letters we got over 2 years ago should remind us that we can do anything in life. We just have to put time and effort into it.

In one of my favorite movies, Grown Ups, Coach Buzzer says to his team, ‘I want you to play life, just like you played that game, so when the final buzzer goes off, you’ll have no regrets.’

In Next Steps, we truly ‘played life.’ We took risks. We were not afraid to make mistakes because we learned from them and they made us stronger. . . . If we hadn’t taken these risks, we would be missing out on these awesome opportunities and not have such great memories. A disability can’t hold you back in life, only you can do that!

Let’s go out and show the world what we have learned here! We all have bright futures, and we want to go far in life. And we can! We will have to continue to take risks the rest of our lives. We are in charge.

So let’s live the life we want to live, and when that final buzzer does go off, we will have played life with no regrets.

“Challenging others” – Michael Flom, Ambassadore

“I learned not to be afraid of challenging others,” was the theme of remarks by Michael Flom, a Next Steps Ambassadore. Ambassadores are Vanderbilt undergraduate and graduate students who are peer mentors. The following are excerpts from his remarks:

I need to admit something. When I first started as an Ambassadore, I was afraid to challenge others. This, in retrospect, was my greatest disservice to the Next Steps community. I prioritized the absence of struggle over helping others mature into better students and individuals.

Things are a little different nowadays. I am no longer afraid to challenge others because I know how important it is for growth—for the growth of the individual and the growth of friendship. Real friends challenge each other by asking the big questions. . . . Friends do not let others take the easy way out but they don’t let them overburden themselves either. And friends know how to grow the best parts of each other, too.

So I grow through my friends, not only their praise, but their critiques. While their praise brings me up, their critiques keep me grounded. . . . They want me to succeed, and I want them to succeed.

My [Next Steps] students have posed several questions to me that have rocked me. They have inspired me. They have pushed me to love. To forgive. And to discover.

Next Steps is the ultimate human experience. A place to prosper, a place to be scared, and a place to be reaffirmed in this crazy world. Thank you, Next Steps [students], for answering some big questions in my life and helping me pose a few more of my own. . . . The relationship we as Ambassadores share with our students is anything but one-sided. And I wouldn’t want it any other way.

“Our community is better and richer because of you” – Erik Carter, Next Steps Faculty Director

Dr. Carter’s remarks focused on a “few lessons learned from watching the students’ journey through Next Steps.” The following are excerpts from his remarks:

The first [lesson] is perhaps the most important. The presence of a disability label is simply not a reliable predictor of people’s aspirations for their lives. There is no separate set of dreams for young people with disabilities. Spend some time eavesdropping . . . and what you hear will sound so utterly ordinary. A satisfying job, great friendships, a comfortable place to live, involvement in a community, a chance to give something back, a place to belong, and . . . a college degree.

A second lesson—our expectations have to rise to meet their aspirations. . . . We’ve learned through our own research that when it comes to changing outcomes for young people, they [expectations] are almost always the most powerful things. So thank you for catching hold of this vision and clinging to it tightly.

A third lesson, labels are powerful things. . . . But I am afraid we so often choose the wrong ones. . . . But a day like today seems to shatter those labels. And calls us to rethink the labels we give. I happen to like the label of college graduate. . . . The label of Vanderbilt alumni. A label that opens up opportunities, that showcases your strengths, and that supports your dreams. You can be proud of this label. And how proud we are that you wear it.

A fourth lesson, people should be known first and foremost by their gifts. By the strengths and talents and passions and spirit that they bring to relationships and to community. The five graduates here this afternoon bring no shortage of gifts.

And here’s the thing about gifts. They need to be received. Vanderbilt is a community that is better off because of the gifts you have shared so generously with us.

The final lesson, we almost always get it wrong when we talk about who benefits from inclusion. It is absolutely true that each of you has benefitted greatly from the time you have spent on this campus. . . . But that is just one piece of a much larger story. The real marker of inclusion is in how the entire community is strengthened—not just a single part. You are in a room full of people who have also benefitted because of knowing you and from Vanderbilt’s commitment to an inclusive learning community with Next Steps.

Jan Rosemergy, Ph.D., is VKC deputy director and director of Communications and Dissemination.

Pictured top of page, left to right: John Moore, Conor Dolan, Nicholas Villarreal, Jamie Galvin, and Bryshawn Jemison.

Giving Banner

This is a monthly email of Vanderbilt Kennedy Center Notables published by the Communications staff of the Vanderbilt Kennedy Center. Between issues of Notables, you can stay up to date on the latest Vanderbilt Kennedy Center news, information, and resources via the Vanderbilt Kennedy Center’s Facebook page.