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  • Writer's pictureJulia Fieldhammer

City Connections graduation

It’s the end of an era for me!

After 15 years of school I am no longer a student. I’ve experienced a lot in all my school years. I’ve made friends from when I was little that I still have today. Probably like most people, the thought of not being a student anymore is scary, because I’ve been a student most of my life so far, but I’m also really excited about the future.

These past three years have been a game changer for me. My last school, City Connections, really helped my confidence and independence. Back in high school I was so used to having everything done for me that I didn’t realize how much more independent I could be. Back then, I was so focused on the social and academic part of school that I kind of pushed my independence to the side.

The people at City Connections helped me realize that I was capable of so much more. It definitely wasn’t easy for me at first. In the beginning I had days where I would come home from school crying. I felt so defeated and in that moment I really wanted to quit. But the people around me kept pushing me to take more responsibility for myself, and that made me want to be an independent person.

I had a lot of different experiences at City Connections, like riding the city bus. The city bus was unlike anything I’d done before, so the first couple of times I rode it, I was kind of scared. Since I don’t live in the city, it was something new for me. Some passengers were not very accommodating with my wheelchair. I also had to talk to the driver with my voice device about securing my wheelchair and even though at times they would ignore me, it was a good challenge. The more I went on the city bus the easier it got, it definitely forced me to get out of my comfort zone.

My PT would take me out once a week to different places around the city. We usually took public transportation to get to our destination so I also rode the subway. I learned how to get on and off quick so the doors wouldn’t close on me. I really enjoyed those days.

My favorite thing about going out in the community was getting to see new places for myself. I learned so much about taking responsibility for getting around as a wheelchair user. These experiences have helped me become more aware of my surroundings. Now when I’m out with my family I try to pay more attention to where we are and where we are trying to get to, in order to participate more fully in the activities.

I also got a lot of work experiences when I was in City Connections. I had the opportunity to join the writing staff for the magazine Pittverse. Pittverse is a magazine written entirely by people with a disability. Since I was in high school, I had dreamed of becoming a published writer and Pittverse made that dream come true!! I also had some real work experience at Robert Morris University, in their social media department. I learned about editing. Editing is a skill that I definitely think will help me in the future. Not only did I learn about editing and film making, I also learned what it’s like having a job and responsibilities for that job. I’ve never had a job before RMU and I think it was definitely a good learning experience for me.

When Covid hit, it changed everything and turned my whole world upside down. Just like everyone else, I had to stay home in the beginning. This was extremely difficult because my school was all based on going out into the community. I felt so trapped, as I’m sure a lot of people felt. Despite all the problems Covid caused, once City Connections figured out how to do virtual programs, I had some really good opportunities.

One of the opportunity that I really enjoyed was to shadow with the social media team at the Dyanavox Company. I love social media and I would love to make it part of my career. The team was made up of three woman. We would meet once a month and they would talk to me about what makes a good social media post. I learned how, as a team, they work together to create the best social media post for their platforms. I’m so happy I got this opportunity to shadow. I never realized how much thought a company has to put into their social media. I definitely learned some things that I can take with me moving forward.

The most incredible opportunity I had this year was to write an article for a local Pittsburgh newspaper called Public Source. I had a connection there through my program and I pitched an idea to them. I was a little nervous because I never really had to pitch an idea before. I wrote up some key points, like an outline and the editor liked my ideas so I was asked to write a story for them. This was my first professional article. When the article came out I was overwhelmed with excitement. I was so happy! In my opinion this is one of the greatest things I’ve accomplished to this day. If you want to read this article, you can either go to the Public Source website or type my name into google.

I can’t believe my time at City Connections is over. I’m truly grateful to have had so many wonderful experiences.

Graduation wasn’t exactly what I pictured due to Covid. We had an online graduation. All the sites were there. Ms Gayle, the director of the City Connections program introduced the teachers from each site. Then the teachers introduced their students to say a few words. Just when it was my turn, the internet went out and I got kicked off the meeting. Oh the joys of technology! Thankfully it only took a minute to log back on. I said my speech, which was preprogrammed in my voice device. After the graduation was over it felt weird that I was completely done with school.

Since we couldn’t have an in person ceremony, City Connections also did a drive by. All the teachers were at one of the City Connections Sites. The students could drive into a parking lot, get out of their car and take some pictures and say their goodbyes to the teachers. My mom and I drove down to the city. We got a little lost. No surprise that we were late. We were so late that my teacher called my mom to ask if we were still coming. Oh well, we finally made it . I got to take pictures with some of my teachers. It was kind of bitter sweet because I had to say goodbye to them.

Looking forward to my future, I’m going to continue to push myself and work hard.

I have so many more goals and dreams that I want to accomplish. I’m going to continue to work on my writing. I might take a creative writing class, so I can improve my skills. I’d like to learn more about working as a freelance writer. Two of the biggest goals I have for myself are to publish a book that I write and to do some advocacy for the disabled community. I know it’s going to take patience, but if I work hard I know I can achieve my goals. Writing is my passion and I hope I can use it to influence the way people look at disabilities.

I’m proud of everything I’ve accomplished so far. I’ve really grown as a person the past couple of years.

Thank you to everyone that has helped me throughout my school years. Your encouragement has meant a lot to me. I’m so grateful to have met everyone that has been a part of my journey so far. I can’t wait to see what the future holds for me!!

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