Human Interest

Valedictorian credits sister with Down syndrome for shaping her outlook on life

down syndrome, graduation

Katie Myers is a Maryland high school student who is quick to name one of her most important role models: her younger sister, Emily. In an interview with the Catholic Standard, the high school valedictorian spoke about how much Emily’s Down syndrome diagnosis has positively influenced her life. “That has had an enormous impact on my life and my family’s life and impacted a lot of things I’ve chosen to do here,” she said.

In speaking of Emily, Katie reflects on how influential her younger sister has been to her. “She’s a little stubborn. She’s so funny and always makes me laugh. In our family, she’s the one who will comfort someone when she notices they’re sad,” Katie said. She added that she loves “watching [Emily] as she’s grown up, how she takes pride in everything. She accomplishes even the little things and just really makes me grateful and appreciate what I can do.”

Looking at all Katie has accomplished, it’s clear to see that Emily has influenced her choice of extracurricular activities. These include volunteering with Special Olympics, participating in the Down Syndrome Network of Montgomery County, and serving as president of the local chapter of Best Buddies. Katie even chose her high school, Academy of the Holy Cross in Kensington, Maryland, in part because it has the Moreau Options Program, which helps students with disabilities reach their full potential. Katie said that the program “was definitely one of the reasons I wanted to go here.”

WATCH: Adorable siblings sing together for World Down Syndrome Day

The life lessons that Katie has learned from Emily should come as no surprise. As one study out of Tel Aviv University and the University of Haifa has shown, typically developing children benefit when they have a sibling with a disability. The study states, “Overall, the research suggests children whose siblings have [intellectual disabilities] experience personal growth and gain emotional strength, and this is reflected in character traits such as perseverance, motivation, a sense of responsibility, maturity, and developed social skills.”

“We found that children with siblings with intellectual disabilities scored higher on empathy, teaching, and closeness and scored lower on conflict and rivalry than those with typically developing siblings,” said professor Anat Zaidman-Zait from Tel Aviv University.

In a world where so many children with disabilities like Down syndrome are aborted, Katie’s story is an important one. It directly contradicts the assumption that children with disabilities will be nothing but a burden on their families. Katie’s life experience is a valuable lesson showing that each and every person has dignity and worth. As she said about her family, including Emily, “My family as a whole are my best friends, my parents and both my sisters.”

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