As a special-education student prone to severe emotional outbursts, Shelby Williams seemed an unlikely candidate to ever graduate from high school. Today, not only has the 19-year-old woman earned her high school diploma from Conerstone Academy in Streamwood, she's giving the commencement address. Williams, a resident of Maryville's Casa Salama home in Bartlett for girls with intellectual disabilities and mental illnesses, will speak today at 9:30 a.m. at the school at 410 E. Streamwood Blvd. Streamwood. Here is an excerpt of her speech, edited for space.
I'm here today to talk with you on the topic of "never giving up on yourself."
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At age 13, I lay in a hospital bed talking to a man who was evaluating me for hospitalization. I remember feeling so lost, torn, as if I did not belong anywhere.
From that day on for years, my life was full of anger and tears. I was not quite sure why the anger was there and I was definitely not in any rush to figure it out. I was one very troubled young person.
Not long after my first hospitalization, I was placed in my first residential center. That didn't last long seeing how my behaviors were too extreme. The next residential did not last long either because my behaviors were very unsafe. I had my mind set on one thing and one thing only; that was to not live any longer. I struggled with this issue for many years.
I have worked with therapists, staff, and teachers for a long time. So now, I don't wish to die. In fact, I am doing very well. I now live at Maryville, where I hope to be transitioning out of soon to be going to a TLP or CILA program.
There I will learn the skills I need to be an independent tax paying member of society. Also, I have recently been accepted into Elgin Community College, where I will pursue a degree in Fire Science to reach my goal of becoming a firefighter. I am enrolled in the Cadet program at the Streamwood Fire Station, which I'm very excited about.
So what's the moral of my story, you ask? Well, the moral of my story is to never give up, because so many times I gave up on myself and it just set me back and made me feel worse. But when I finally put my head on straight and dealt with things appropriately, things started to come together. I remember when I was strapped to a gurney so I couldn't move and I was freaking out. I remember the firefighter was so nice and helped me calm down. So I made a vow to myself that I'm gonna pay it forward. So many people in my life have done so much to help me overcome great obstacles that now I feel I would like to help others as well. So when you're on the edge and ready to throw in the towel, just remember: nothing is impossible with a little hard work and determination. Use the resources around you. Never be afraid to ask for help. We all need help sometimes, even Michael Jordan; he couldn't have done it without Dennis Rodman and Scottie Pippen and the rest of the team to back him up. So build a team of people to help you back up when you fall.
Mistakes -- now it's perfectly normal to make a mistake. Everybody makes them, but do you know the definition of crazy? Well, for lack of words, the definition of crazy is to repeat the same behaviors expecting a different result.
Now I truly believe that very few people in this world really are crazy, we just continually make bad decisions and expect a different result. Only one person controls the decision you make and that's you. So don't be "crazy;" try new things. Step outside your comfort zone, don't let others' decisions dictate all of your decisions. Life is full of cool things that we will never explore if we are always stuck in the same rut, not making much of an effort to move on. Anyone can be a success story. Success is simply a favorable result, such as going to college, getting a job or just trying your hardest to be the best you can be. Like I said, anyone is capable no matter your history, where you're from, your background, anything. You can be a success in life. So, I'm going to end my speech with this thought: Always remember it is better to travel through life than to constantly be running from it.