As if Hope’s senior year could get any better…Saturday marked the start of an annual tradition for the ClemsonLIFE students and alumni. It was the first ClemsonLIFE Reunion Tailgate prior to the Clemson/Wake Forest game. ClemsonLIFE alumni, current students and their families, volunteers, staff, Clemson University faculty, and President Clements and his wife Beth were all in attendance. There were over 120 people who stopped by. Old friends were reunited, new friends were made, and yummy food was devoured. It was so heartwarming to see these students reunite with such excitement. Before Hope started Clemson, some of my biggest fears for her revolved around the whole “friendship” issue. Would Hope ever experience true friendship—the kind that is sincere and truly reciprocated? The friendships of younger years seemed to have faded as Hope grew older. It became more difficult to find social activities for her to participate in with her peers. ClemsonLIFE has given Hope opportunities to develop life-long friendships—friends that have the same interests as her, friends that want her to go to dinner or to the movies or to sleep over and have a One Direction dance party.
God created each one of us for relationships—relationships with Him and relationships with others. It is something we all need. People with intellectual disabilities need meaningful relationships. They need friends. They may need to be taught better social skills and how to be good friends to others. They may need to be taught about what makes a healthy relationship and what doesn’t. ClemsonLIFE has 400 volunteers that partner with the LIFE students, role modeling these skills for them, and mentoring them on how to be a good friend and a good roommate and how to maneuver the ups and downs of relationships. When I have spoken to some of these volunteers about why they are involved, they all say the same thing: we get so much out of our time with these students. We all need community.
After this great time of fellowship at the tailgate, everyone walked over to Memorial stadium to watch the final home football game of the season where the senior players and the military were honored. It’s always a thrill on Military Appreciation Day to sing “God Bless America” followed by the National Anthem, remembering the sacrifices of those who have served and are currently serving, especially at a time when there is so much unrest overseas. As the team ran down the hill for the last time this season, purple balloons were released, “Tiger Rag” played loudly, the tiger roared, and the fans were screaming! My eyes filled with tears as I thought to myself–my daughter gets to be a part of this!
So where does Lee Brice fit in to this whole story? Lee Brice is a former Clemson football player turned famous country singer. He happened to be sitting near us at the game. Of course, Hope was dead set on meeting him and had no problem asking for a hug and a picture. Lee was so gracious to indulge her. He even sang his hit song “I Don’t Dance” with her before the night was over. How does this happen???? Guts! BYOG, (Bring Your Own Guts) as Dabo says. Hope does it every day!
What a senior year! Cheering for the #1 football team, making life-long friends in college, celebrating every day freedoms and singing country songs with Lee Brice….Thanksgiving and Christmas have come early! I am just trying to savor the moment.