Secretary Cardona's Remarks at the Special Olympics Unified Champion School Banner Announcement at Oak Grove-Bellemeade Elementary School, Richmond, VA

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Secretary Cardona's Remarks at the Special Olympics Unified Champion School Banner Announcement at Oak Grove-Bellemeade Elementary School, Richmond, VA

Remarks as prepared
September 13, 2022

Thank you: Principal Smith, Superintendent Kamras, President Thomason, Dr. Harris-Muhammad, distinguished guests.

And special appreciation to Emanuel Wright-Anthony, who is doing an amazing job as emcee. And thanks to the entire Oak Grove-Bellemeade community for your warm welcome.

We're here today because you're doing something right.

You are choosing to support each other. You are choosing to help each other.

And above all: you are choosing to include. I can't overstate how important that is.

I know how it feels to not be included. When I set foot in my elementary school for the first time, I quickly realized:

I came from a Latino family. Most kids didn't.

I spoke Spanish as a first language. Most kids didn't.

I knew for sure that I was different. Separate from the other kids. Honestly: it felt terrible.

Over time, I learned something: the things that made me different weren't deficits – things that set me back. They were assets. They let me bring something to the table that no one else could. They were superpowers.

What I want you to understand today is this: each and every one of you has a superpower.

Maybe you have an ear for music. That's a superpower.

Maybe you're good with paints or pastels, murals or sculptures. That's a superpower.

Or maybe you have an incredible sense for numbers and data. That's a superpower.

Maybe you're good at building things – out of wood, out of clay, out of anything. That's a superpower.

Or maybe you make people feel seen – emotionally. You hear the tone in someone's voice, and you feel empathy. You see the little hints of sadness or anger on their face, and you feel compassion. That, too, is a superpower.

I could go on and on.

I bet some of you here have your favorite superheroes, right?

Well, here's the thing about superheroes. No one is ever talking about what they can't do.

No one ever says "Captain America can't shrink himself like Ant Man." Or "Black Panther doesn't have Wanda's magic."

And another thing: if you've watched any Avengers movie, you know they're always stronger together. Why would you try to save the world with one superpower when you could include many?

That's why what you're doing here at Oak Grove-Bellemeade is so important.

You include students through unified sports: students with and without intellectual disabilities playing cornhole together or playing together in the Little Feet Meet.

You include students through leadership: whether it's the Unified Club here or students in higher grades coaching younger students.

And you include students by getting the whole school involved. Respect Week. Disability Awareness Week. Rep Your Colors Day.

And you've been doing this for a long time. You're raising the bar – not just by honoring the letter of the law, but by sustaining the spirit of inclusion. You're raising the bar for creating pathways that engage all students. You're raising the bar for intentional partnership.

As a former teacher and a principal, I can tell you this: my school was so much better when we chose to include – and I know you feel the same way here.

Students get better: because you're all being supported, because you're building friendships, because you're doing things that use your superpowers.

Teachers get better: you learn new ways to teach and more ways to reach your students.

The school community gets better: you have more relationships, more activities, more students eager and ready to learn.

You're doing amazing things here – in partnership with the Special Olympics.

I'm reminded of the oath for Special Olympics athletes: "Let me win. But if I cannot win, let me be brave in the attempt."

So today, I call on you to be brave.

Be brave – and reach out to include someone new.

Be brave – and look for the potential in others. Let them know!

And finally: be brave – and recognize your own potential. Your own superpowers.

Some day, none of this will be brave – it'll simply be normal.

Until then, it's students and educators like you who are leading the way.

So let's check out a video of the things you all have done to make your school inclusive!