Graduation: The Positive Changes I’ve seen over the past five years!

It’s a warm sunny Saturday in May. I’m at Landmark College in Putney Vermont for the Spring Commencement. As I listen to the graduates one after the other, I am struck by the change in outlook over these past few years. Landmark started as a college for dyslexic students and evolved into a more general special needs college. Over the past decade Landmark has made a paradigm shift to a neurodiversity school; the only one of its kind in the country.

Here’s how I mark that change:

Five years ago, students stood up and announced their pride in overcoming disability to get to this point. No more. Today, students are standing up and telling us they are proud to graduate as neurodivergent people. That is indeed a paradigm shift.

None of today’s graduates “overcame disability.”

What a huge step! They are not graduating despite an impediment. They are graduating as neurodivergent people. “As” something, not “despite” it. One after another, they are telling the audience they found their tribe, their community, at this school.

One student summed it up like this: “I’ve come to see my own disability awareness as knowledge of things I can’t to. Yet.” What an empowered and hopeful perspective!

It’s telling that the graduates don’t speak of the specific programs they studied. We’ve got students of English, Computer Science, and many other disciplines accepting diplomas. But that’s not the thing the students focus on – to them, it’s about community found here and mutual support.

That speaks to what’s really most important in life. Inner strength, community, and acceptance will take most of us farther than any specific academic program. Academics are important, to be sure, but community and acceptance are necessary foundational components, and these students found those things here. In the words of several of them – for the first time in their lives.

I am very proud to be a part of this time, and this transition.

John Elder Robison is a visiting lecturer and advisor to the Landmark College Center for Neurodiversity.