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It is rare that I am so overcome with emotion that I cannot speak. Chatty by nature, I believe that my family sometimes screens my calls to avoid getting “hung up” in a two-hour conversation.
But at West Brunswick’s graduation last Saturday, I experienced one of those rare moments; I was so overcome with emotion, I literally couldn’t get the words past the lump in my throat.
When West Brunswick senior Amber Todd stepped up to receive her diploma, she didn’t just give Principal Brockton Ahrens the customary handshake and walk away. She wrapped her arms tightly around him and gave him a big hug.
Then Amber stepped back, shook his hand and accepted her diploma. As she did, her friends, family and fellow classmates clapped, cheered and gave her a standing ovation.
I couldn’t stop the tears as they slipped down my cheek.
In many ways, Amber is just like every other graduating senior: she loves to post on Facebook, she enjoys hanging out with her best friend, and she plans to go on and pursue her education after high school.
But Amber had to work harder than most of the other seniors to achieve that milestone accomplishment. Having Down syndrome made getting to graduation day a struggle.
Her mother, Dianne Todd, said that as Amber progressed in school, the work became more difficult, and because she and Amber’s father both worked full-time, it became harder for them to help her.
“Her daddy and I really struggled because it was more homework than we were used to,” Dianne said.
While the work did not come easy for her, Dianne said Amber’s an excellent speller and she loves to read. She also said that she’s a computer whiz.
“I’m intimidated by the computer, but she’s not,” Dianne said. “She can get on there and do just about anything. The only thing I don’t like about the computer is that it’s made her quit reading.”
Dianne also said that Amber enjoys singing, dancing and being involved in school activities. Amber, 19, has been dancing since she was a child, and she especially enjoys performing, and Dianne said that people love watching her dance.
“It just makes your heart happy,” Dianne said. “She gets so much joy out of people liking her.”
According to Dianne, and Amber’s dad, Rick Todd, and her brother, Brandon Hewett, Amber is a loving person who has never met a stranger.
“She knows everybody,” Dianne said. “Everywhere we walk in, people speak to her. They’ve been really good to her.”
Dianne, Rick and Brandon all said she receives a lot of support from members of the community.
“Children walk up to you, and they don’t really know you, and they ask if you’re Amber’s mom,” Dianne said. “And they say good things about her. There’s nobody that I can think of that doesn’t like her.”
I think Amber’s bubbly personality and ability to achieve can be credited, not only to the support she’s received from the community, but the encouragement she’s received from her parents and her own desire to pursue her interests.
“She’s never been told that she was not able to do anything,” Brandon said. “She has taken that and ran with it, and she lets nothing hold her back.”
Dianne, Rick and Brandon all say that Amber’s aspiration is to be a singer and performer.
Soon, Amber will continue her education by attending the Brunswick Interagency Program at Brunswick Community College.
Because she is such a sweet, caring and genuine person, I have no doubt there will be more standing ovations in her future.
I also have no doubt that her positive energy and loving spirit will continue to make lasting impressions on people.
“If you meet her, you will never forget her, and she’ll never forget you,” Dianne said.
Renee Sloan is a staff writer at The Brunswick Beacon. Reach her at 754-6890 or email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.