“Most people don’t like giving speeches or presentations, but I love it. I don’t get nervous, even if I am talking in front of 500 people,” says Michelle Anderson, 23, who has come a long way since she discovered her passion for public speaking in high school. Since that time, she participated in a training program to become a self-advocate through the National Association for Down Syndrome, and has spoken at hospitals and medical facilities, as well as at local schools to more than 8,000 students with local public speaker and author, Nancy Goodfellow. Says Michelle, “I let everyone know that people with Down syndrome and other disabilities all have something to say or share. Many of us use our voices to talk and some people use sign language or other technology, but like everyone, we learn our own way and we have our own dreams, hopes, and wishes.” If you’re interested in having Michelle come to your school, visit: http://www.nancyfgoodfellow.com
Following is the rest of Sam’s interview with Michelle, who is also currently taking a culinary arts class at a local community college to learn the kitchen skills she’ll need to be independent.
What do you talk about when you give speeches at schools? “I share a little bit about myself. I let them know I work part time, give presentations, have plans to continue my education, and I spend time with friends pursuing my interests in fashion and theater. I also do sports and music.”
What’s the best question a student has asked? “Many students ask me what it’s like to have Down syndrome. I tell them that my life is great, and that I don’t know what life would be like if I didn’t have Down syndrome.
“Students also ask me about my friends. I let them know that some of my friends have disabilities and some don’t—I want kids to know that I made some amazing friends in school and they helped me to be a good student.”
What other activities are you involved in? “I’m in a monthly book club, a Bunco club, and I am a Young Life Capernaum Leader. I compete in many Special Olympics sports including basketball, softball, volleyball, snowshoeing, and track. I love my yoga classes and tracking steps on my Fitbit. My favorite activity is going on vacation with my family and friends.”
What’s the accomplishment of which you are most proud? “I am proud that I have been able to advocate for myself at schools, and in my community to help myself and people with Down syndrome and other disabilities.
“I am also proud that I have jobs at Aurelio’s Pizza and the Naperville Park District Riverwalk Café. They are great places to work, and my co-workers are fun.”
What’s the most difficult thing you’ve had to face, and what got you through? “I lost my dad to cancer seven years ago. Knowing that he will always be a part of me, having lots of fun memories, and knowing that he would be proud of me has helped.”
What do you like to do in your free time? “I like to listen to my music, hang out or text with my friends, and read scripts. I also love making plans with my boyfriend and my girlfriends.”
What do you do with your friends? “I like going to movies, dinner, concerts, and sporting events with my friends. I also love going to WDSRA special events, like the Penn and Teller Show, iFly, and the dances.”
At what moments that you remember have you been the happiest? “Going to my prom at Naperville Central, and to graduation, and going on vacations with my family and friends are my favorite memories.”
Out of all the people you’ve met over the years or read about, who do you most admire? “There are many people I admire and I can’t think of just one person. I would have to include my family, and all the people who have helped me in school, at my jobs, and in the community.”
Where is your favorite place to be? “I love to travel and have been lucky to do some fun things like going to Young Life camp in Michigan, visiting my elementary school friend at her college in Nashville, celebrating birthdays with my girlfriends in Vegas, vacationing in Hawaii and Mexico, and touring sites in Ireland and England. My favorite places include Arizona and Minnesota because I get to see family.”
What are some of your goals for the future? “I want to continue my education and employment plans to help me with independence skills. One day, I would like to be an usher at a Chicago theater.”