In this heartfelt graduation speech from May 2023, E4Texas instructor Meghan Schrader reflects on her journey as an educator, disability studies scholar, and disability justice advocate. She shares her personal struggles with mental illness and the profound impact of finding her role within the E4Texas community. Through poignant storytelling, Meghan highlights the transformative power of interdependence, where teachers and students mutually inspire and support each other. Her speech underscores the importance of valuing oneself in a world that often marginalizes individuals with disabilities and encourages graduates to pursue their dreams and goals with determination and creativity. Meghan’s words resonate with the essence of E4Texas, a program that fosters a unique sense of camaraderie and empowers students to build lives filled with purpose.
“As an educator, disability studies scholar, and disability justice advocate, I love my job at E4Texas, and I appreciate this opportunity to post a graduation speech I gave in May of 2023. I think it illustrates our program’s grounding in disability justice, and the unique sense of camaraderie that our program seeks to foster between students, teachers and the broader community.” -Meghan Schrader
Speech given by E4Texas instructor Meghan Schrader for E4Texas Graduation in May 2023:
There’s a saying, I don’t know where it comes from, that reads, ‘I sought my soul, but my soul I could not see. I sought my God, but my God eluded me. I sought my brother, and I found all three.’ I’ve been meditating on that saying as I’ve been reflecting on my time at E4Texas. I’ve had treatment resistant mental illness since my mid-teens, and the most constant social factor driving that condition has been a lack of accessible employment for someone with my learning disability, or for someone with my particular cluster of strengths, skills and weaknesses.
And so, I often have not felt like the self that existed prior to the onset of the depression. When I was little, my Mom’s good friend told me that everyone had a metaphorical ‘love light’ inside of them that guided how they treated others, and she kindly remarked that my ‘love light’ was very bright. But, without a grounding environment where my talents were valued, without a job where my deficits were accommodated, without an appropriate community to work in, I have often felt as though my ‘love light’ went out, or was constantly flickering. I am a devout Christian, but without an appropriate outlet for my impulse to help others, I have over the years found myself periodically thinking and acting in ways that made me worry that maybe I wasn’t really God’s servant. That was very painful for me.
But, in the last few years, a wonderful thing has happened to me. I’ve found my job at E4TEXAS. I know we teachers have had some authority over you students as we try to direct you toward choices and skills that will help you flourish in life, but you, the students, are helping the teachers lead meaningful lives as well. You are being your teachers’ teachers. E4TEXAS is a shining example of interdependence— people working together in a community to help each other lead fulfilling, independent, happy lives. I can’t tell you all what it’s meant to me to mentor you, carve Halloween pumpkins with you, talk about ethics with you, expose you to different types of music, or continue my own teacher training by helping you learn at the Priscilla Pawn Flawn Children’s Education Center. I have been honored to instruct you all this year. Because of my work with you all, I have lately felt like God’s servant. I have felt as though my ‘love light’ has been turned back on, and the real me is alive again.
I pray that our time together talking about treating others the way we want to be treated, and how to choose between right and wrong, has helped you learn critical thinking skills that will serve you as you build careers and have the healthy, fulfilling relationships that all of you deserve. I hope that your time with us at E4TEXAS has taught you all more about how to value yourselves in a society that often doesn’t value disabled people very much. Don’t settle for the limited menu of choices that the world so often gives to people with developmental disabilities. Never give up on your goals– if your goal is to go to community college, go for it. If your goal is to become a professional advocate for other people with disabilities, go for it. If your dream is to go to a four-year college and become a speech pathologist, go for it. If your goal is to work at a bakery and live in your own apartment with your friends, go for it. If your dream is to be a sound healer, go for it. If your goal is to own your own business, go for it. Just keep creatively thinking about how you can work towards building a life of meaning, purpose and integrity, one step at a time.
Want to learn more about the E4Texas post-secondary program at the University of Texas-Austin? Register for our annual Open House to learn all about this employment-focused transition program! For additional information, visit our website or email our Program Outreach Coordinator at Kathleen.Hernandez@austin.UTexas.edu. Your journey towards growth and empowerment starts here!