“I am not a statistic or a category…By God’s grace, I am.” – Craig Romkema, Graduating Class of 2011

HUGE congratulations to poet and JKP author Craig Romkema who, after ten years of hard work and dedication, has graduated with a Bachelor of Arts degree in English Literature from Dordt College, located in Sioux Center, Iowa, USA.

Craig is the author of a breathtaking book of poems, Embracing the Sky: Poems beyond Disability. Here, he reflects on his determination to achieve his intellectual goals in the face of difficult physical challenges presented by his autism and cerebral palsy.


My journey began in 2001 as a nervous freshman, wondering if I could tolerate the increased stress and rigor of college classes. I only took two classes per semester since my cerebral palsy and movement disorder make fast typing difficult. Add in my sensitivities to sound and light and my tendency to act more autistic under stress and I knew that I had great challenges ahead of me.

Craig Romkema accompanied by Marliss Van Der Zwaag, Coordinator of Services for Students With Disabilities at Dordt College.

Four things helped open doors of understanding towards me: first, the meeting Marliss (pictured above) and my mother held with the new professors explaining my behaviors and my ways of working in the classroom; second, a video that described my communication system to the professors and my new classmates; third, my aides who provided me with physical and emotional support so that I could relax and tap out my contributions to classroom discussions; and fourth, my book, Embracing The Sky, which allowed everyone to understand my life and to hear my voice. My book is still sold in the Dordt College bookstore.

And so we trudged on through snow and ice and rain and welcome sunshine, sometimes my mother or other assistants, through ten years of exams that took the class one hour but took my slower hand more often three or four, through class after class of puzzled but friendly students and gradually relaxing professors, through hours of listening to textbooks on tape or read by helpers, and of composing hopefully thought-provoking papers, through years of the blessed delight of learning! We became tired and out-of-sorts from time to time, but my brother and sisters had passed me by and I was determined to complete what I had begun. My parents would find me immersed in our college annual, studying the faces of the graduates. I wondered what feelings I would experience crossing that stage.

I believe my sister’s photograph (above) reveals them all. I will be forever grateful to those who allowed me to take my place alongside my intellectual peers, reveling in the ferment of ideas. I hope the next step of my journey will include more enlightened souls who will enable me to add my contribution to the meeting of this world’s needs. I am not a statistic or a category, or even just a client. By God’s grace, I am.

Below is a beautiful and fitting poem from Embracing The Sky which Craig wrote for his mother, Barb Romkema, upon his graduation from High School in 2000.

Graduation

Great friend, listener,
Divider of my shroud of fear,
To you the words are given
That no one else knows are there,
For in perfect relaxation they flow like a river of escape,
Of connection, of joy.
Long you battled my defenses,
The gobbledygook of a frightened mind,
Reassuring me that the words could proceed unimpeded
Through practice and trust.
Eventually you calmed my spirit enough
That my mind could direct
My hand,
And the words,
Triumphant,
Blaze their message
From ignominious disability
To honored academia.

This I celebrate today–
Tassel hanging, robe swishing,
Marching with measured steps into the ceremony.
With honors
They tell the world,
While onlookers silently wonder,
But you and I know the journey we have traveled
Together.

So great friend, listener,
Divider of my shroud of fear,
I carry this diploma for all the years
You sought me.
Now my words can comfort you.
Listen.

A few comments from Barb on his graduation from Dordt:

I have been privileged to sometimes walk alongside Craig and sometimes cheer him from a distance, but always to try to honor his desire for a full, inclusive life. Thankfully, others have supported us in our pursuit of that dream. We need their encouragement to make a new way for Craig and others like him.

Craig wants to keep writing, to be able to make a living using the words he loves so well.

We hope the world will create new possibilities for him.

Many thanks to Craig and Barb for sharing their thoughts on this very happy and well-deserved occasion! Click below for more info about Embracing the Sky.

Copyright © Jessica Kingsley Publishers 2011.

Books related to this blog post

Embracing the Sky

Embracing the Sky

Poems beyond Disability

Craig Romkema


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