Young Leaders with Ability
EPIC’s Annual Graduation and Kick-off Celebration
Speech by Jonah LeDuc, a graduating Service Warrior
Hello everyone, my name is Jonah LeDuc and I am a graduating EPIC Service Warrior. Thank you everyone for coming here and supporting EPIC. We are a team of young people with disabilities who commit to one full year of community service and leadership development skill training. We are emerging leaders who step out of our comfort zone and learn how we can benefit our communities. We made it! 110 hours of community service. There were times in which I didn’t think we were all going to make it, but we did!
Towards the end of the Service year, I saw the light at the end of the tunnel… not literally, like everyone on my team, I have a disability, and that disability is blindness. I can see a little bit of light, but that’s all, nothing else.
Before EPIC, I thought of my disability as who I was, not what I had. I lived in fear that people would reject me and not get the chance to know me on the inside. Here at EPIC, we are not labeled by our disabilities, but instead, we are labeled by our potential. For instance, my teammates and me have the potential and ability to transform our community through community service and developing our leadership skills together.
When I first heard about EPIC from my school counselor, a light bulb went off. I realized it would be a chance for me to be in an environment where everyone is valued and supported. On my first day, I was nervous, shy and quiet… and look at me now, well those who can of course! I am so proud and eager to take on opportunities like this and speak in front of such a large group of people. So back to the first day, at lunch, I took a leap of confidence and I chimed into a conversation and I felt that there wasn’t that usual feeling of disconnect. I felt welcomed right into it. No judgment, extreme comfort… I can be myself, and encourage others to be themselves too. I guess I felt accepted. That’s one of the main things that I love about EPIC; acceptance, inclusion… to the max!!!
Every day I go to EPIC is my favorite day, but because I’m giving speech, I should pick one. One Service Warrior day that sticks out to me would have to be the day our team traveled to Waypoint Adventure. I had been so encouraged to trust the EPIC process and my teammates, I volunteered to be the first Service Warrior to take on the infamous ”big swing” where my teammates would not only hold me up, but would not let me fall. At Waypoint, we discovered the importance of teamwork and what we can achieve if we work together. I realized that everyone has a role to play in the community and that their community needs them. No one should buy into the lie that they can’t be something because of a disability. Their diagnosis does not have the final say. No one is defined by what they don’t have or can’t do. So why should people with disabilities be treated any different?
EPIC has challenged me to break out of my shell and show my community that I have so many things I can bring to the table. All I ask is the chance to achieve my potential.
To my teammates, you have taught me so many skills that I can’t imagine obtaining without you and your support. I know that you will graduate as a changed human like me. You will also change your community. You are all my good friends, you helped me realize that we are all much, much more than our disabilities.
To the incoming Service Warrior team, I am so glad that you have decided to be part of the EPIC family. Prepare to be transformed and transform others as we overcome the obstacles that we will face in the upcoming service year. As I had said before, every EPIC day has been my favorite. I know that you guys will leave every day not wanting it to be over and learn how much you matter and how much the world truly needs you, needs us!
And that can start with you, the audience. By your presence here tonight, you are saying that you are ready to give us the chance to lead in our community. We cannot thank you enough for your support. With your support we will have the chance to reach our goals to educate and help our communities reach their potential. To show people with disabilities that they have a voice and show their communities that their voices deserve be heard!