This week’s Student Feature Friday is junior Madeline (Maddie) Cerulli. Maddie is an active participant in Best Buddies, “The world’s largest organization dedicated to ending the social, physical and economic isolation of the 200 million people with intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD). BESTBUDDIES® builds one-to-one friendships between people with and without intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD), through school and community friendship programs that provide socialization opportunities to help erase the invisible line that often separates students or adults with and without IDD. Friendship programs include Best Buddies Middle Schools, High Schools, Colleges, Citizens, and e-Buddies.” (www.Bestbuddies.org)
Maddie is currently the Best Buddies chapter president and takes the responsibility very seriously. She helps to match Buddies, looking for common interests that will develop into strong, dedicated 1:1 friendships. She also organizes events for the group including a basketball clinic with the Holliston Boys Basketball team, bowling events, and trips to the aquarium. This month the group is planning several events surrounding the “spread the word to end the word” international movement, focused on ending the use of the “r” word, instead choosing “respect” and acting respectful without judgment. Maddie is truly a caring a remarkable person who is leading by example.
Q: Why is Best Buddies such an important organization for you to be part of?
A: Best Buddies is such an important group to be a part of, as it advocates for the inclusion of our amazing peers in the special education program who we may not have the opportunity to meet otherwise and form really strong relationships with. For me personally, I got involved because of my younger sister. As she is a part of the special education community, I have witnessed some of the challenges she has faced in feeling included in her school and community, and so I wanted to make sure that she and all my friends in the program have the best high school experience possible.
Q: It was clear during our conversation that you have found your passion working with Best Buddies and that you love talking about the group. What advice would you have for others who are still trying to find their passion?
A: I’m lucky enough to have found something that means so much to me, and I think for other people to find their passion, it’s important to have different experiences and be open minded. You never know when something can strike you as something that truly connects to who you are, and make you want to continue with it for the rest of your life.
Q: During our conversation you mentioned educating people about “people first language.” Can you explain what this is and why you feel it is critical for people to be aware of the language they use?
A: “People first language” is using vocabulary that puts the person first, ahead of the disability, or in general, just ahead of any label that might take away from who someone is beyond being part of a specific group. An example I love is if you’re introducing a friend of yours who broke their arm, you wouldn’t say “this is my broken arm friend”, because their broken arm is not more important than who they are as a person. It’s critical to realize that even this small change in language matters. It shows that you are seeing someone as more than that one characteristic, and in this case, as a person, not just their disability. This doesn’t mean that a disability isn’t a valid, respectable, part of who they are, but more that a disability does not solely define them.
Q: Not only are you a leader for Best Buddies but you also participated in the Rotary Youth Leadership conference last year. What was this experience like and what did it teach you about your own leadership style?
A: The Rotary Youth Leadership conference was an incredible experience that allowed me to meet other student leaders from around the state and learn skills that expanded our confidence in leading. I learned so much about using a platform to speak on behalf of a group, and also that leadership doesn’t just come in one form. I learned that my leadership can go past being a vocal presence, but I can also lead through quiet example.