Silent Night: A School Pageant

We arrived at the school with Ruby and Sadie in tow. We wanted to be there early so we could get the disabled parking and I could get inside before people started streaming in. The kids needed to be there early too, so we picked them up and they rode with us. Ruby and Sadie ushered us into the gym and Sadie pulled out a chair in the front row so I could fit my chair in. Then Sadie disappeared upstairs. Ruby heard me mention to Joe that I’d forgotten my glasses so she picked up the program and read it to me. In doing so she pointed out three things: which one Sadie was in and which ones she was in. Then, she pointed out a third, simply called ‘Silent Night’ and said, ‘You are going to really like this one.’ Now she disappears.

The gymnasium of the school was packed. Standing room only. We joked with Marissa when she arrived that we could have sold the seat we held for her for over a hundred bucks. We all noticed the buzz of excitement in the room, it seems that everyone there had a ‘star’ in the show and were eager to get it started.

When the show began it was a bit more like a rock concert than a Christmas pageant. The crowd cheered at the end of every performance and that buzz, electric buzz, was there. We all joined in and were part of the sound in the room as comments were whispered about the songs, the acts, and the performers. The teachers all sat on a small stool directly in front of their classes and provided direction and support as needed. They were a show in and of themselves, all walking away incredibly proud as the room cheered the children on the stage.

Teachers create opportunities for their students to shine. I hope everyone there let a little of that light fall on the shoulders of those who made this happen.

I was curious about the third performance, why had Ruby said, “You are going to really like this one.” We waited as they got ready behind the curtain and then the curtain opened. There were three or four rows of students sitting in white shirts and black pants. They looked like what the were, a choir. The music started and a lovely version on ‘Silent Night’ played. The whole class sung the song in sign language. Real effort was put into this because the kids signed in virtually perfect unison. The sheer beauty of the song in sign did something to the room. The buzz was gone. There was quiet. The students had captured the attention of the entire room.

Me, I had to fight back tears. I don’t expect inclusion or recognition of disability any more. Here, in this pageant the kids had sung in French, and Italian, and Spanish, and Sign, as well as English of course. It matters that they did this. It matters that the teacher thought of if. It mattered that the kids performed it. It mattered that they respected sign language as a language just as they had done with the other languages.

Social change comes from moments like these.

Civil liberties comes from moments like these.

I’ll bet at least half, but probably many more, of the families driving away in their cars will talk about that one performance. They will talk about being surprised at the complexity of the signs, they aren’t just gestures, and the idea that one can sing in silence, that there can be beauty in difference, that deaf people have a legitimate language that needs respecting.

When it was over Ruby asked me, before she asked me about how I enjoyed her performance, Sadie’s performance, what I thought of Silent Night. I told her she knew me well. Then we all chatted about the show and the kids performances, which were awesome, and made our way towards the door.

I had an opportunity to speak both with the principal and the teacher who lead the signing choir. I told them both about what it meant to me and how pleased I was to see that particular performance. The teacher told me that she’d tell her class and that they’d be happy that it had meant so much to me.

I like going to the girls pageant (after I got over myself … but you’ll have to rove back through the blog to find out what I mean) because it’s a friendly and welcoming school, fully accessible to me, and because they seem to actively work at respecting diversity. It’s nice to roll through the doors into a building with the full assurance that those on the other side of the door are truly glad you are there.

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