Wanna See What Joy Is? Check Out This Video From Hampton Academy in New Hampshire
There are not many times that I get to shout to the rooftops about something so joyous. I am so grateful to have found Tessa Zoeller.
I got an email from Kristian Zoeller, Tessa's father, about his daughter's 8th-grade graduation ceremony from Hampton Academy. Tessa has Down Syndrome.
A Little Bit About Tessa
Tessa was born on February 6, 2007. Her parents, Kristian and Michelle Zoeller didn't even know that she had DS until 2 weeks after she was born. On that February day, Michelle was just going to the doctor for a routine check-up when she went into labor.
Scary Time for Tess' Parents
Time was of the essence when the doctor found out that the baby's heart rate had slowed way down and she had to be taken by C-section. The doctors didn't even have time to give Michelle traditional anesthesia as the circumstance had become dangerous. Tessa had to be delivered immediately.
That's worth repeating. The doctors didn't have time to administer traditional anesthesia and they took the baby by c-section while Kristian held Michelle's hand. Wow. Wow. and... one more... WOW. As Kristian put it:
I say it a lot, but she (Michelle) is the strongest woman that I know. Tessa was born into a family who was fighting for her from the beginning, even if we didn’t know that she had DS.
Tessa grew up to surprise everyone around her and is now extremely high functioning and healthy.
Hampton Academy Made Her Day Extra Special
Last week, on June 16, 2021, there was another milestone in Tess's life. At 14 years old, she graduated from Hampton Academy. Tessa has attended the Hampton School system since she was in kindergarten and is very close with her friends and peers, so they decided to make her feel special on Graduation Day.
Warning: This is where you might need a tissue handy. Watch the kids on the bleachers as Tess's name is called. Then stick around for the end. Love and joy is all around and you can see it very clearly. In fact, you might want to watch it 3 or 4 times in a row. Not that I did that or anything....
According to Kristian and Michelle, Tessa hasn’t stopped talking about it for days, exclaiming that they really do like her.
Hampton Academy ROCKS
The Zoeller's asked me to write this to express their gratitude to such an amazing school and acknowledge the love and acceptance from Tess's peers and the Community. Kristian and Michelle would also like to thank Tessa's Case Manager with ELP Program, Bonnie Heath. Bonnie was Tess's aide for the past 3 years and the Zoeller's call her "absolutely amazing.... a Godsend."
Having a Down Syndrome child is such a gift. I am the stepmother of an amazing Down Syndrome adult, Audrey, whom I've known since she was 11 years old. I was not there at the time when my husband David and Audrey's Mom Barb found out that she has special needs, but I'm sure it was a frightening, confusing time. They did not yet know at the time what a gift Audrey IS to the world.
In an email, Kristian sent an article written by Emily Perl Kingsley that describes how it felt to them at the time:
Welcome to Holland: BY EMILY PERL KINGSLEY
I am often asked to describe the experience of raising a child with a disability – to try to help people who have not shared that unique experience to understand it, to imagine how it would feel. It’s like this…
When you’re going to have a baby, it’s like planning a fabulous vacation trip – to Italy. You buy a bunch of guidebooks and make wonderful plans. The Coliseum. The Michelangelo David. The gondolas in Venice. You may learn some handy phrases in Italian. It’s all very exciting.
After months of eager anticipation, the day finally arrives. You pack your bags and off you go. Several hours later, the plane lands. The stewardess comes in and says, “Welcome to Holland.” “Holland?!?” you say. “What do you mean Holland?? I signed up for Italy! I’m supposed to be in Italy. All my life I’ve dreamed of going to Italy.”
But there’s been a change in the flight plan. They’ve landed in Holland and there you must stay. The important thing is they haven’t taken you to a horrible, disgusting, filthy place full of pestilence, famine and disease. It’s just a different place.
So you must go out and buy new guidebooks. And you must learn a whole new language. And you will meet a whole new group of people you never would have met. It’s just a different place. It’s slower-paced than Italy, less flashy than Italy. But after you’ve been there for a while and you catch your breath, you look around…and you begin to notice Holland has windmills…and Holland has tulips. Holland even has Rembrandts.
But everyone you know is busy coming and going from Italy…and they’re all bragging about what a wonderful time they had there. And for the rest of your life, you will say, “Yes, that’s where I was supposed to go. That’s what I had planned.”
And the pain of that will never, ever, ever, ever go away…because the loss of that dream is a very, very significant loss.
But…if you spend your life mourning the fact that you didn’t get to go to Italy, you may never be free to enjoy the very special, the very lovely things…about Holland.
Here's the Graduation video for all the students of Hampton Academy last week:
Thank you, Kristian, Michelle, and Tessa for sharing this with me. I loved the video. I hope that we can continue to spread the word about how FABULOUS people with Down Syndrome are. Here's my Audrey giving my trumpet a run. Joy, I tell ya.... Just joy.
One more shout out to the Community of Parents who have DS children.
Our friend, Bryan Killough has a beautiful DS baby boy, Augie, and is in the process of adopting another child with DS. Because he and his wife are cool like that.
Congratulations, Tessa! And.... Keep blowin' that horn, Audrey!
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