“Grit: Passion and perseverance for very long – term goals. Grit is living life like it’s a marathon, not a sprint.” – Angela Duckworth
Sean and Sandra McElwee have grit to the 21stpower. Think about the two episodes you have heard of their story. And this truly is ‘their’ story. If only one of them had grit—the outcome would most likely be different. But they both have grit ingrained in their characters, which has led to an exciting future full of success and endless possibilities.
Sean showed his determination to be on TV, and later on to improve his speech over, and over, from the time he was three! Sandra’s grit showed up behind the scenes, consistently. Her numerous stories always showed grace, determination, and perseverance mixed in with the humor many of us need in order to advance forward.
Sandra’s quote that stood out to me most in episode six was this. “In high school he was not completely in general education classes. It was too much of a fight at that point unfortunately.” You may think, “Well, she gave up.” No, she did not. And no, Sean did not. Sean showed repeatedly that the high school’s ‘transition’ program’ was inadequate. It took the adults in the system too long to understand, but he held his ground and showed them. Sandra made sure that Sean did not go into functional classes. She made sure a bad experience that could have ruined Sean’s work ethic or determination did not. She made sure that Sean finally had a person – centered plan. And she made sure to honor his feelings at the end when he was pretty much over school. She somehow kept him interested enough to take some of the classes his high school excluded him from in community college, like drama, which helped his current career.
By the way—please don’t think I am ignoring the fact that Sean was discriminated against. I see an entire blog being dedicated to someone being denied classes in high school, and then taking them later in community college. This goes on to this very day—all over the US. In 2019. The blatant discrimination needs to stop.
Let’s go back and think about what Sandra describes, driving two and a half hours each way for a fifteen – minute audition. How many youth, and parents would actually do that? Happily and willingly. Repeatedly. Put yourself in the shoes of someone who sees their child receive blatant discrimination, over and over, by professionals that are supposed to believe in our children. I know parents in those shoes who become militant and combative, sadly losing any respect or effectiveness. Sandra chose to write books, help those behind her, and advocate strongly for everyone in the US—even though her son is long gone from public school. I admire people who give back—to the greater good like Sandra continues to do. She has grit at the base of her big heart.
Now think about Sean. Imagine you are the one clearly not wanted by the very people you are supposed to trust and learn from. Many in this case would become bitter, angry, and solitary. Not Sean. His kind and honest nature, funny personality, and zest for life came through. So much so that time and time again it was the very students he was in school with who stood up to educators and demanded his inclusion. That is grit. And the beauty of real inclusion.
These podcasts are being recorded so we can all learn from success stories ahead of us. At the end of season one I will write about all the commonalities that stand out. And there are several. But for right now. Let’s concentrate on grit.
If you watch Angela Duckworth’s Ted Talk, one of my favorites for a long time now, you will hear her say she does not know how to instill grit in a young person. I am clearly not an expert, so I don’t either. But I have made some observations of things Sandra did—that certainly may have helped.
- Being honest with Sean. When he was not doing well—she did not sugar coat it. She told him. The clearest example was when they came back from the audition where he did not do well. Many parents would have said their child did well to placate them. Sandra did not sugar coat it—she told him he blew it and why. Then instead of lecturing him—she let him come to the decision to work on his speech.
- Giving Sean exposure to numerous activities and sports. Without exposure—how is a child supposed to find out what they are good at? Many may think this is no big deal—but when your child has a disability it is. You need to find the right avenues for them, in as many inclusive ways as possible, because you are preparing them for the real world-not a special one. I love her story about Sean being only three—pointing to the stage, and saying “Me—do that!” He had the exposure early on!
- Practice makes perfect.Think of the basketball story. Sean was not even close to making baskets. But they installed a hoop in their driveway and then he practiced until it got dark. Isn’t that what you hear NBA players say they did—practice all the time? After all the practice Sandra said,”Now it’s nothing but net.” Success!
- Being the support your young adult needs. When Sean decided to perfect his speech—it was his family who helped him the most. The result? Success on a national Emmy winning show. Public speaking around the country!
- The knowledge that we all need to keep learning and growing. Very successful people always keep learning and growing. They don’t become complacent. They don’t say, “Now that my show has won three Emmys I’ve made it.” No—Sean continues to try and improve. As she clearly says, we never stop learning. And he makes new goals!
We all know grit is not exclusive to people with disabilities. However, it certainly is needed when people with disabilities navigate the extra roadblocks many face. The intangible quality is this–which parents, educators, support staff, and citizens of this world innately strengthen grit? And which unknowingly overprotect and coddle youth away from becoming ‘gritty’?
I am so grateful to Sandra for her interview, and to Sean for saying this is all ok (while agreeing to be interviewed in the future.) I hope some or all of this is helpful or of interest to you. How can we each instill grit in our children, our students, and today’s youth?
Thank you so much for taking the time to read this, and thank you for caring.
From my heart,
If you have not heard episodes 1-6, you can go to the link at the bottom of this page and it will lead you to the episodes. Or go to www.bornfabulouspodcast.com. The podcast is also on iTunes, Alexa, or any podcast directory. I invite you to subscribe on those podcast directories. Born Fabulous also has Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter pages as well as a YouTube Channel.