I have been asked in many conversations "why did I title my autobiography 'Get Off Your Knees: A Story of Faith, Courage, and Determination'?" I point out that 'Get Off Your Knees' has become my personal mission statement. I was an uninspired young adult in need of motivation, just like many young people today.
In college one night, a woman looked down at me and must have thought I was holding up a line we were standing in together. She took a quick glance my way and yelled that if I get off my knees, our line would move a lot faster. It was a funny statement at the time, but became much more.
My mission is to stand up to any obstacle in front of me. As a person with physical disability -- congenital amputee and 3'9" tall -- I am faced with different physical obstacles from most other people. On a daily basis, I'm faced with items I can't reach, limited mobility, the need for adaptive equipment, as well as a society unaccustomed to physically different people. All of these obstacles can seem daunting to outsiders and, for a long time, to me.
I am proud to say I've learned how to overcome obstacles in an able-bodied world. I have developed a good sense of problem-solving, which has certainly helped in my business career. My problem-solving comes directly from overcoming physical obstacles.
I look around society today and see many challenges for youth. There are bad influences, low employment levels and a general lack of educational interest. Young people need to be inspired through education to find a way through today's world.
According to the 2009 statewide New York State Education Department report card, the New York State graduation rate for 2008-09 was reported to be 74 percent. Over one quarter of New York State youth do NOT graduate high school. Within students identifying themselves as having a disability, the graduation rate is a staggering 45 percent. What an unbelievable problem!
When I speak to students, I see them looking for a path they can follow. They are seeking leadership and inspiration. They want to believe education is important. If we as adults are troubled by the economy and society, it's a sure bet that students are as well.
Recently MSNBC highlighted a young woman -- Kiera Brinkley -- who lost all four limbs due to a blood infection as a child. "She was eager to go to school, ready to try anything," her mother stated in the article. This is the kind of message students -- all students -- need to hear. It can only help raise the 74 percent graduation rate to a better percentage!
For me, overcoming obstacles meant getting and using my education. I am proud of what I have learned and hope to continue to share the message with students, educators and businesses. 'Get Off Your knees' has been my mission statement and a positive message to many. I hope it continues to inspire people that we all have the ability to stand up to obstacles in front of us.