Our very own Irish Fest School of Music student Jonathan Schmidt was invited to speak to the young men at Marquette University High School during their "Spread the Word to End the Word" liturgy on March 19, 2015. Watch the video above (Jon's speech begins at 2:05) and read along with his powerful message:
"Close your eyes for just a minute. Imagine it’s a Friday night in October, it’s your senior year and the game and the season are on the line, there are 20 seconds left in the game and Brookfield Central is winning by 4. You are the star receiver for the Hilltoppers and this game will determine whether or not you go to the playoffs. You have worked for this moment since you were in 5th grade. The quarterback throws a near perfect pass, you have this, your arms are up, there is no one near you, the game is yours, the ball slips through your fingers and you drop it.
"Keep your eyes closed, it’s your junior year, the lead in the musical is yours and it’s opening night, You have worked hard, You have earned this moment in the sun and great things are on your horizon. You have done this 1,000 times, the curtains open you walk on stage, just you ,to open the play, the light is shining in your eyes, the theater is packed and you completely and totally lose your lines and have nothing to say.
"Still keep your eyes closed. You and your little brother have been the best of friends forever. You do everything together: you’ve biked, played, attended each others games. He knows you like no one else. One day when he is riding home after practice, a lady lost control of her car and ran him over. He spent months in the hospital fighting for his life, learning to walk and to talk. Gone are the days when you could pass a soccer ball in the back yard. After a long afternoon of physical therapy, you run to get the van , now equipped with a wheelchair lift, to bring him back home. He sits in his wheelchair waiting for you but when he see’s you he has the biggest smile. You are so proud of him and the battle he’s fought. Outside of your family, no one will ever know how hard it’s been. Just as you enter the lobby to wheel him out, you see a bunch of people staring at him.
"Open your eyes. What if in each of these situations the first thing that you heard was “what a retard.” How would you feel?
"It’s a 6 letter word, not a 4 letter word and yet it is one of the most offensive, hurtful and truly terrible words that exists. And you know what ? I would bet that almost every person in this room at some point in their lives has used it or has been in a group when someone has said, “I can’t believe they gave us this homework, it’s retarded,” “That girl is such a retard, look what she is wearing,” “You missed that basket retard.” If you didn’t say it, but your buddy did, did you stop them? And ok, have you ever made a joke about a short bus?
"Why is it so hurtful ? Is it any worse that some of the religious and racial slurs that have been used forever ? And why is it that it’s pretty likely that if you used the N word, or another racial slur or a 4 letter world in your history class your teacher would send you to have a chat with Father Sazama, if you called the guy next to you a retard they would not.
"Any offensive word causes pain. But the difference with the word retard is that it refers to someone who usually cannot defend themselves and did nothing whatsoever to cause the disability they have. Just as my friend Matt didn't ask for autism and my friend Colin didn't ask for CP, and I didn’t ask for the extra chromosome that God gave me. I would argue that my friend Bob puts more effort every day of his life into being transferred in and out of his wheelchair and taking one or two steps than most of us do in an intense workout. How is that something to make fun of?
"The use of this word, hurts. It hurts people like me who try very hard to do things that come easily to you. It hurts people who love someone who have a disability. So I ask you to think long and hard about not using the R word , not making jokes about short buses and not staring at someone who has a disability. I ask you to call out your buddies the next time they call someone a retard. But even more, I ask you to stop and talk to that person. Say hello. Have a conversation. We are people just like you.
"How do I respond? I hear the word , I am not dumb. I am an Eagle Scout. I ignore it, I walk away and I know that is not someone I want to be my friend.
"What's the best way to respond? Last week in Kenosha, fans in the stands were making fun of a cheerleader with Down Syndrome. They were calling her a retard. And you know what ? The entire Kenosha basketball team walked off the court during the game and told them to stop using that language or to leave. That takes guts.
"Think about this. When they came to arrest Jesus in the garden, Peter sliced off a servants ear. That was a pretty thoughtless thing to do. Did Jesus call Peter a retard? No, he reached out and healed that servants ear.
"Be the difference. Respond with compassion and don’t use the R word. I think Spread the word to end the word can impact the whole world. Just treat others like you would want to be treated.
"Thank you Marquette High School for having me here. Go Hilltoppers!"