It’s not often that you can get a group of high school students out of bed before 9 a.m. on a Saturday morning, but when it’s for an event such as the 4th Youth Leadership Forum, some motivated students will forgo their usual weekend sleep-in. Despite the torrential rain that fell this past Saturday, more than 40 such students with disabilities made their way to the Spangler Center at Harvard Business School to attend this year’s forum as delegates from throughout Massachusetts. The event was hosted by the Office of the Assistant to the President, as Marie Trottier, University Compliance Officer and University Disability Coordinator, co-chairs the planning committee for the Youth Leadership Forum as part of her role as co-chair of the Massachusetts Governor’s Commission on Employment of People with Disabilities.
Perhaps the highlight of the day was the keynote speech, given by second-year
Harvard M.B.A student Jonathan O’Grady. Born in Ireland and diagnosed at a very young age with spinal muscular atrophy, O’Grady has studied in England, Ireland, and at Harvard, is pursuing his second master’s degree, and has worked as a commodities broker. His warmth and charm, and his willingness to discuss not only his great successes but also the challenges he has faced, made him a compelling speaker.
O’Grady shared the story of how he gained his independence and described some of the challenges along the way. He spoke of his happy college experiences and of succeeding in work environments. He gave the delegates both tough love and very useful information for this transitional period in their lives.
The delegates started the day listening to remarks by Democratic State Sen. Jarrett Barrios ’90, who took them through a wide range of topics, including the MCAS. He talked about the No Child Left Behind legislation on both the state and national level.
Throughout the day, delegates took part in workshops on topics such as advocacy, and attended presentations such as “Being Successful in Today’s Work Environment.” They also learned about Partners Online, which is a resource for people with disabilities to network, and to find and provide mentorship.
Partners for Youth with Disabilities Executive Director Regina Snowden and Deputy Director Maureen Gallagher worked with staff and volunteers to pull together the Youth Leadership Forum. In addition to her role on the planning committee, Trottier also led an afternoon discussion titled “Post-secondary Education – Considering Your Choices and Advocating for Yourself.”
Although the rain continued to fall throughout the day on Saturday, the atmosphere inside the Spangler Center was warm and optimistic, as this extraordinary group of young people, with the help of some equally extraordinary speakers and volunteers, looked forward to their bright futures.