Maddie speaking at the graduation podium

Student overcomes societal judgment and exclusion to find her community at FRCC.

As we celebrate our graduates this spring, we hear many powerful stories about their experienceboth in college and in life. More often than not, they’re stories of overcoming significant obstacles to reach their dreams.

We get to hear from some of these students during our graduation ceremonies. We call them our “Voices.” This spring, we’re sharing several of their speeches with you here.

We hope you learn something worthwhile from each our our graduate’s voices.

Maddie Stallman: Associate of Arts Degree With Sociology Designation

Before attending Front Range, I believed I wasn’t good enough to try to make a meaningful difference.

My name is Maddie Stallman. My pronouns are she/her/hers. I am a Sociology major, and one of the co-presidents of the Sociology Club here at Front Range Community College.

A Life of Isolation

For me, living as a disabled person often brings feelings of isolation and exclusion; a sense of being a perpetual outsider because I am blind and have ADHD. Many people are unfamiliar and uncomfortable with disability, and by extension, me.

They don’t take me seriously when I express myself, treat me like a burden, or think of me as an inspirational exhibit rather than as a human. Unfortunately, I have experienced so much judgement in my life that before attending Front Range, I wasn’t even entirely sure what acceptance felt like. 

To cope, I became very withdrawn and rarely talked to anyone—especially new people. I was desperately lonely, but did not want to admit to myself how badly I wanted friends and a place where I fit in. A place where I felt like I belonged.

Meaningful Inclusion

It was with the help of people at Front Range that I’ve begun to unpack the trauma I’ve experienced from being disabled, and also to unlearn the associated feelings of shame and self-hatred.

My instructors acknowledged my disability, not to be patronizing or nosey, but because they care about me as a whole person and wanted me to have meaningful inclusion. For example, putting in a great deal of time and effort to provide me with high-quality accessible materials, occasionally adapting course content so well that the access barriers that are a part of my everyday life were removed entirely for the duration of a lesson or assignment.

Finding Acceptance

They also held space for and encouraged me to talk about what it is like to be disabled — something I could almost never do anywhere else. Their openness to everything I had to say, their empathy, and sensitivity meant that I never had to fear being looked down upon or othered, and taught me how to accept these parts of myself instead of running away from them.

All of my instructors here have been wonderful, and I could write an entire speech about any one of them. Tonight, I want to recognize Kristina Kahl and Angela Green Garcia for being especially powerful forces behind my paradigm shift, as well as the allyship of Susan Faltinson, Jessica Johnson, April Lewandowski, Aurelio Madrid, Jessica Mahoney, Jo Painz, Chandra Powers Wersch, and Sirena Shock.

Part of a Community

In the safe environment that I have on campus, I no longer feel like I need to constantly prove myself worthy of accommodations and basic humanity. Being able to get some relief from that constant anxiety has allowed me to connect with peers as well as instructors.

Sometimes in classes, but especially through Sociology Club, I’ve met fellow students who I really enjoy spending time with and feel comfortable being myself around. They include me just as my instructors have.

Instead of feeling merely tolerated, I feel like they embrace me for who I am, and have the honor of calling them my friends.

Thinking Critically

Instead of blaming myself for the inequity and exclusion I’ve faced, the amazing people I’ve met at Front Range have taught me to think critically about the systems of oppression that perpetuate those experiences—for myself and many others at a societal level. Speaking first-hand to how much of a difference forming genuine connections and diversity, equity, and inclusion make, I want to encourage all of you to continue that work as you move forward.

More Work to Do

Celebrate now, but not as if you’ve reached the finish line where all your work is done. Instead, celebrate tonight as a milestone and a resting place before you continue on to make the world a more supportive and just place—a place where you challenge systems of oppression, and extend inclusion and acceptance to everyone.

Each of you holds the power to enact positive change and you need no one’s permission to use it. Thank you.

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