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David and Mercedes Rizzo explain how a milestone celebration is a whole-family effort when a child has special needs.

This is the time of year for graduations. We love to hear Pomp and Circumstance played. It is representative of hard work and accomplishment. Last weekend we celebrated the college graduation of our youngest child, Shannon. It may be our final time going to a graduation ceremony for one of our children. Through the years we have been to many graduations for our kids from preschool through law school. Each time we are always proud parents and marvel at the dedication that our kids showed in applying themselves to do so well.  

Shannon’s recent graduation, like all the ones before this, involved some extra planning on our part. That is because our other daughter Danielle has autism, and this complicates things just a bit. Danielle doesn’t like loud noises or crowds. She has a short attention span that makes it difficult for her to wait for long periods of time. Nevertheless, Shannon wanted her big sister to be there when she graced the stage to have her name called out with the words Summa Cum Laude after it. 




Even though the ceremony took a long time, Danielle did very well and reported to us what was going on using her iPad picture communication software. She was very interested in the band and musical instruments. She mentioned on her iPad the horns and drums. She was enjoying the music and paying attention. She followed along the best she could and participated in standing for the National Athem. This is an answer to prayer as it was not always that easy to take Danielle to any event of her siblings', let alone a milestone like a college graduation.  

The ceremony was long—very long, about 800 names long! That alone had us a bit on edge on how long she would tolerate the length of the ceremony, the loud noise and the crowd. When your youngest child is graduating from college you just don’t think you will need to have to do the extra planning that is involved in bringing Danielle to an event. You need to make sure of your seat selection. Danielle likes to rock back and forth in her chair; she likes to move around a lot too. You also need to make sure she has her iPad charged, snacks, her water bottle and other items to keep her happy.  




These extra preparations are things we just didn’t expect to have to be doing at this point in our life. But that is how it is. Still, we are grateful for all the progress that she has made, and we feel relieved that she made it through the ceremony. Shannon is happy too. She wanted her sister to be with her on her special day.  

We wonder if Danielle understands what a milestone a college graduation is or even what college is. She definitely gets the point that something special and something big is happening.  


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All of us walk into the mystery of God as we live our lives.


We are very proud of Shannon. She handled the college experience like a champ, even with Covid interrupting her first two years. She traveled abroad and studied a semester at the Catholic Institute of Paris. She accomplished her goal and graduated in four years with highest honors and will start a job soon. This is all any parent can ask for. 

Shannon has always been a champion for her sister. In fact, when she was younger, she wrote about Danielle for a school assignment:

If not for her, I would probably look at the world a lot differently, and I would take many things for granted, like the fact that I can speak. Danielle is an inspiration to many. She shows that you can overcome the hardest of obstacles, even when you have a disability. 


Shannon’s hard work has paid off and she is stepping out into adulthood with style. As parents, we often ponder the action of God and His grace in the lives of our children. All of us walk into the mystery of God as we live our lives. If you blink you can miss it. Milestone events like college graduations give us the space we need to experience this. 



Copyright 2023 David and Mercedes Rizzo
Images: copyright 2023 David and Mercedes Rizzo, all rights reserved.