This past weekend, I had the opportunity to attend the Connections Banquet, an inclusive night of fun, entertainment, and dancing for high school students, alumni, and friends from around West Michigan. Prior to the event, I’d seen pictures from previous years and heard of its popularity among students and alumni at all levels of ability. As our friend Tim recently shared, “…one thing is for sure: I wouldn’t miss it for any reason.”
It’s one thing to hear about the excitement and community that surrounds the Connections Banquet, but it’s another to experience it. As I helped out at the registration table, I saw giddy high schoolers squeal when they saw their friends, decked out in seventies attire, walk through the front doors. I saw reunited students and alumni exchange hugs. I saw teenagers eagerly flash wide smiles at the photo booth. I saw friends listen in as they caught up on each other’s lives. And I saw understanding friends lend a hand to each other.
There was an unmistakable normalcy in these interactions between persons with diagnosed disabilities and their peers, a culture that’s become commonplace in their inclusive schools. It was evident that the friendships celebrated at the Connections Banquet represented meaningful relationships saturated with mutual expressions of care for and enjoyment in another’s presence. Instead of friendships based on sympathy and compulsion, I could see these students understood they needed each other to make them whole – they needed each other to make their community complete.
What a beautiful and powerful truth for these young students and their friends to understand! Imagine with me how this understanding will shape their families, workplaces, and communities as they grow! What a blessing God has given us in the gifts and presence of others. May He continue to shape friendships and communities that reflect this interdependence displayed by students at the Connections Banquet.
To see photos of this event, please visit our Facebook page (and be sure to “Like Us” while you’re there!).
Katie Barkley is the marketing communications manager at CLC Network.