As I prepare to make the 1100 mile journey to Minnesota tomorrow, I think it is important to take a minute to step back from everything and reflect on how far I have come and where I will be headed in the future.
As recently as the beginning of the summer I have begun to embrues my disabilities in a different way then I ever have before. I have always had the strong belief that my disabilities have not been a hinderance on my life, but rather helped to propel me in the directions I want to go in the fields that interest me. Over the course of my summer spent in D.C. I have become more aware of my disabilities in ways that I never thought possible. For instance, I never realized how important (and how much I rely upon) audio and visual accessibility features are to make things like transportation more accessible to a wider variety of people. I never realized until I was in a crowded Metro car how much I rely on the conductor announcing each stop to know where I am going.
While these personal observations are always welcome, this summer was more about professional growth and development than anything else. I will forever be grateful to the many outstanding advocates who I have had the opportunity to meet and interact with over the course of my internship with the HELP committee and time spent in D.C. I am especially thankful to the many professionals who have taken it upon themselves to personally mentor me in the field of special education policy and disability rights… I hope you all know who you are and take pride in the fact that you helped at least one young women find her true passion in life. As one such mentor told me recently “The more we help students when they are young and in school, the less assistance they will need as they grown into adulthood and therefore the less money we will need to spend on services for adults which are more expensive than children.”
As far as my immediate future is concerned, I will be returning to Drake University in a few weeks to begin my sophomore year. While juggling clubs, classes, and organizations I will be applying to become a student fellow at the Tom Harkin Institute for Public Policy and Citizen Engagement. On top of these responsibilities, I hope to continue my work in the policy word as a contributor to the Lead on Network and a variety of other organizations like the Council of Parent Attorneys and Advocates (COPAA) which is a special education lobbying organization that is trying to expand its presence nation wide. Looking back, it is hard to believe that just fourteen months ago a $40 million increase in special education funding was signed into law by Minnesota Governor Mark Dayton as a result of the lobbying that I did of the Minnesota state legislature my senior year of high school. It astonishes me that I have had all of these wonderful opportunities in the short amount of time that I have been in Washington, D.C. I look forward to what the future has in store for me.
I would like to extend a special thank you to Drake University’s President David Maxwell for believing in my advocacy efforts and connecting me to Senator Harkin and the HELP committee. In addition, I would like to thank the Slay Fund for Social Justice for believing in the work I am doing and being willing enough to fund a portion of my experience this summer.
Until my next big adventures follow my day to day happenings on Twitter @AnnikaGrassl.