McKenna Kulman and Lauren Jeanne Miller at ETHS. Photo by Bemita Robey

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It has been three months now since I have seen McKenna Kulman and seeing her again was a dream come true. I’ve missed her so much and like me  McKenna was excited for the interview. As we were embracing each other in a hug I just thought “I can’t believe this. It’s actually happening. We have been trying to find the best time to get together for an interview and now I get to see her in the flesh.”

McKenna talked about living in Evanston as she said, “Well” I was born and raised in Evanston for 26 years. McKenna then went on to talk about her life and about her connection to disabilities. “I think I’ve been connected with people with exceptionalities since my younger brother, Judson, was born. So that was 22 years of experience with people with disabilities. My younger brother was born with Down Syndrome and I don’t quite remember realizing necessarily that anything was different about him growing up. It was my every day and it was normal.”

She then talked about how the word “disabilities” impacted her. “I actually don’t like that word. I think I’m like you. When we were first talking about this  project we wanted to think of a different word for that. I think that it’s limiting and I think it gives people an idea of what that person is like before they actually get to know them. If you have that label, disability to me means that you can’t do something and we both know that people with exceptionalities can do so much more than people give them credit for.”

She then gave the quote she lives by, “I love the quote, ‘Shoot for the moon and if you miss, you’ll land amongst the stars,’ I think that goes back to my brother and me growing up and always being told that we had to do our best. Even if we set our sights high and we didn’t hit them, at least we landed amongst the stars and it just goes to show that you do the  best no matter who you are, no matter what exceptionalities, strengths, needs you have, you should always try your best and aim for greatness. You doing this project, spreading awareness, and empowering other people. That’s the kind of advocacy that we really need.”

McKenna said that the most powerful thing is for people like me to help build awareness. I don’t think this has been a big enough topic. Being labeled as having “disabilities” is hurtful and often leads to underestimating those of us who have exceptionalities. Growing up I felt like having this label made me feel like I am in another person’s shadow. Now that I have grown up and have support from many people in my life I feel like I am no longer in anyone’s shadow, and that makes me feel good about myself. I want others to feel the way I feel and I want others to continue to show that they are more than what people think they are.

Lauren Jeanne Miller is a senior at Evanston Township High School. For her Senior Studies project, she will interview  people with disabilities, which Lauren calls “exceptionalities” with the hope that people who do not have disabilities will understand and give support to people with “exceptionalities.”