Grace Under Pressure: Michael Schiavo’ s Speech

By Mark Esposito, Guest Blogger

Author’s Note: Grace Under Pressure is an on-going series of posts honoring everyday people who courageously  make positive differences in their own lives and consequently in the lives of others. It is my own personal affirmation that unexpected heroes reside among us and that they serve as  quiet but unshakable proof that virtue really is its own reward  – and ours, too.

51565bf3b7324.imageEvery year, Henrico’s (VA) Deep Run High School holds a dance marathon to help local charities. The event is wildly successful raising over $1 million since its inception in 2007. The kids start their dancing on Friday night and 27 shaking hours later the exhausted participants rightly toast their accomplishment with some donated punch and soft drinks. This year they toasted more than a marathon.

Sophomore Michael Schiavo was the top fund-raiser this year bringing in an impressive $7,161 in donations. But according to Michael, he got a lot more than he gave. Michael suffers from Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy. DMD is a genetic based dystrophy that attacks 1 in 3600 boys. It usually manifests itself in infancy and causes a wasting away of muscle tissue that is replaced with fat and fibrotic tissue leading to fibrosis. The average life expectancy for patients afflicted with DMD is around 25.

Michael Schiavo felt like an outcast as a freshman at Deep Run. Most of the kids accepted him but he was invisible for most of  them leading to a lonely existence as he motored through the halls in his wheelchair. We all know how isolating high school can be. Imagine it in a wheel chair. All that changed at last year’s preparations for the dance marathon. Putting away his shyness, Michael spoke to the whole school about something close to him. Michael proposed adding Canine Companions for Independence to the list of benefited charities. Canine Companions provides highly trained assistance dogs for children and adults with disabilities.

During that speech from the heart something changed at Deep Run High School. The speech was about his service dog and his desire to be accepted. “’Last year, I didn’t have really any friends,” he said. Continuing, Michael challenged his fellow students to ignore the “400 pounds of metal between us” and say hello in the hallway.

After the speech, “all these people were coming up to me crying and hugging me and I had no clue who they were,” Schiavo beamed. That’s right, self-conscious, class-conscious, and sometimes detached high school kids in one of  the Richmond area’s  wealthiest high schools took a kid into their heart and made the realization that the admonition to be your brother’s keeper is written much deeper than some text on a page.

Now, kids from his school wanted to hang out with Michael. Some even borrowed the family’s lift equipped van to take Michael out for ice cream. A  small, routine rite of passage for most kids, but a “first” for Michael.

“Because of this, I have a lot of friends now. I feel comfortable at school,” Schiavo said. “It’s hard to put myself out there like that, but it was worth it.” His mother, Susan, sees the change, too. “He’s always been a happy kid,” she said. “It’s not like he’s different (now), but there’s a joy that I can’t describe … joy that he gets from hanging out with kids his own age.”

And how did Michael raise all that money for charity? E-mails and follow-up, of course. In those communications he explained how the  marathon had changed his life for the better and how it could happen for others. The crassness just fell away and the money started to roll in. But just maybe the real reason for Michael’s success comes from the person who knows Michael best: “If it’s the right thing, it’s not a big deal to him,” she said. “Michael is just pure love. I don’t know if he’s aware that he always sees the good in people.”

If Easter is about hope, renewal, and overcoming the things of this world that separate us, I offer Michael Schiavo as a shining example of those qualities. Happy Easter, Michael, and to all the good kids at Deep Run who learned the most valuable lesson of all.

And Happy Easter to us all who are lucky enough to live in a world with Michael Schiavo.

Source: Richmond Times Dispatch

~Mark Esposito, Guest Blogger

16 thoughts on “Grace Under Pressure: Michael Schiavo’ s Speech”

  1. That is wonderful. It is a shame adults often cannot find the same compassion within themselves to help others in need. What a fine example all these kids make.

  2. Beautiul, Mespo. Thank you for you continued positive messages. It’s all about attitude.

  3. Great story Mark. The young man is both brave and ahead of his time. Kudos to his classmates for listening and hearing his message.

  4. I’ve had many people complement me for the bravery in which I faced many a major illness. My bravery is a trifle compared to what Michael Schiavo and so many others have faced. To thrive and survive as best he can under the the illness that has befallen him is truly bravery personified. Thank you Mark for yet another stirring account of the beautiful side of humanity

  5. Wouldn’t it be nice if people acted this way everyday…. I know its asking for a lot…. But hey… If the Catholics can get a new pope….that seems as genuine as he acts…. Maybe there is hope for the rest of the world… Including me….

  6. for anyone living in the Baltimore/Washington area Canine Companions is having a fund raiser in Annapolis on the 21st of April:

    The Capital Chapter of Canine Companions for Independence
    invites you to join us on
    Sunday, April 21, 2013 from 1:00 – 5:00pm
    for a spectacular event of unique wine & chocolate tastings.
    Tickets $75 per person.
    Annapolis Marriot Waterfront

    Chocolate Tasting by Parfections & Wine tasting
    sponsored by the Burnett Family Trust

    Mingle with Canine Companion teams and the puppies that will one day become assistance dogs.

    The event will also include: Canine Companions Assistance Dog Demonstration * Silent Auction * Hors d’oeuvres * Wine Tasting * Chocolate Tasting by Parfections * Wine Pull

    dogs, wine and chocolate, now that is a winning combination.

  7. I could not get that blue blurb about Canine Companions for Indepenence to open up yet on this computer. I must not be barking into the Dogalogue Machine correctly. Man’s machine, helps dog, to help humans.

  8. Good for Michael. It takes courage to get out front when one feels left out or beaten down. I hope his life, however long, is rewarding. It is not the length of ones life that counts, it the quality of that life. Michael should have quality to spare thanks to his courage.

    Another high school kid I admire is Jacob Rudolph who “came out” in a speech while accepting a ‘Best Actor’ award. Instead of being shunned as would certainly have happened when I was in high school, Jacob got a standing ovation.

    These kids give us hope for a better future.

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