A letter to the Sparta High School Class of 2011

| 30 Sep 2011 | 09:46

Dear Class of 2011: Grayson got to walk with his class, with you, the other night at graduation. That’s what they call it when you don’t take a diploma but you have completed four years of high school: you get to walk with the class, with the people who know you best, with your peers. You are an impressive group and we want to salute you and thank you as you begin a new phase of your lives. When Grayson had to come back to the Sparta School district in the seventh grade, we were afraid. Middle school can be a tough environment, and Grayson had been cocooned in a school for special-needs students. Every kid in middle school feels that they are different as they drown in a sea of early-adolescent hormones and have to fight their way to teenage shores. But Grayson really was different, and there was no mistaking that. A foot taller than most, with a rocking, bobbing gait that was . unique. We were afraid of how you might treat him. We took him to the middle school’s Welcome Back to School dance at Ungerman Field. He immediately disappeared into the masses of milling bodies that were circling the field. Throughout that evening, as my husband stood at the edge of the crowd, at least 20 of you came over, introduced yourselves and said “I’m a friend of Grayson.” How did you know that we needed to hear that? This was only the beginning. Over the next seven years whenever we were in town, there was always a friendly hello for Grayson from kids we had never seen before, kids he knew from school. Kids on skateboards, kids working the gas station or the counter at Panera’s, kids of all types and stripes. When our family visited the campus of The College of New Jersey with my oldest son, out of the twilight as we crossed campus came a distinct “Hello Grayson!” from yet another Spartan. We know it was not always easy having Grayson around. He watched the guys find girlfriends and tried to figure out how this works. He saw others hugging hello and decided this was a great thing, and we had to explain that this is not always a great thing. He overheard cursing in the men’s locker room and got upset that people spoke like this. Growing up and finding your place in the adult world is hard enough for regular folks, it has been confusing and difficult at times for Grayson and for us. When you turned 18, you were already driving, getting your first jobs, gaining a taste of real freedom. When Grayson turned 18 we had to go to court to get the legal right to continue to help him make decisions. Then there were the choir concerts where Grayson, dressed in the wrong colors, rocked and yawned his way through “Silent Night” (all that talk of sleeping in peace!) or the one where he got angry in the middle of Handel’s Hallelujah Chorus (Well, hallelujah! I thought as I sank under my seat). You all just kept your cool, and kept on singing. And no one ever said he couldn’t try again at the next concert. No one ever made him feel like he didn’t belong with the group. I know that some of you don’t understand or accept Grayson at all, but the vast majority do. You have made Sparta High School his home. When we explained to him that he would attend Sparta High School for seven years instead of just four, he was thrilled. We know that this is because he has been welcomed and helped and lifted up by those of you who have taken the time to see him as just another guy, a drummer, a singer, a kid, a neighbor, a young man, a friend, and you have treated him as such. Yes, he got to walk with you, and you have walked with him this whole way, you have linked arms with him, you have steadied him when he stumbled, you would not let him fall. When they called Grayson’s name at graduation, there was a swell of applause and cheers that took my breath away, but I know that you have been cheering him on for years in many ways, at many times, with sincerity and with love. As you head off to places such as SCCC and Harvard and everywhere in between, please take a piece of Grayson with you. Please always look at the people who are different and see just another human being. Grayson got to walk with you. And you will forever walk with Grayson, because the courage and confidence and strength that your friendship has given him will lift him up, will steady him when he stumbles, will not let him fall. And for that we are so very, very grateful. Sincerely, The Franc Family

Throughout that evening, as my husband stood at the edge of the crowd, at least 20 of you came over, introduced yourselves and said 'I’m a friend of Grayson.’ How did you know that we needed to hear that?”