Congressman Pete Sessions Advocates for the Down Syndrome Community
by congressman Pete Sessions
Proud father and son: Alex and Congressman Pete Sessions
|Alex the achiever: With Gladys Knight at the Be Beautiful Be Yourself Gala...|
|... and receiving his Eagle Scout Badge|
“Since the day he was born, I have always encouraged my son Alex to focus on his many abilities rather than his challenges. When he is faced with a difficult task, I ask him the same question I have asked since he was a little boy. ‘Alex, what’s the word?’ Without hesitation he replies with one simple word: ‘Can!’
Alex’s mother and I knew early on that despite having Down syndrome, Alex has many talents, particularly in athletics. The nicknames he received while competing in the Special Olympics were very fitting—in track he is known as ‘Dash,’ and in swimming, ‘Splash.’ Regardless of the size or ability of his competitors, Alex’s vigorous desire to succeed has enabled him to become an accomplished athlete and the recipient of several Special Olympics medals.
Of course, Alex’s passion is evident not just on his chosen field of play. He loves to give the prayer before each meal, so much so that we started calling him ‘Reverend Sessions.’ In school Alex formed a lasting, 12-year relationship with his loving kindergarten teacher, Janet Cundiff, and she became an integral part of the caring cadre of people that further challenged Alex to build upon his strengths. He has become the exceptionally fine young man he is today, at the age of 18, due to his overall passion for life, the service of others, and his hard work in school.
One of my proudest moments was when Alex was able to join his older brother, his grandfather, and me in earning the prestigious Eagle Scout Badge. For his extensive community service project to earn the honor, Alex teamed with a friend to refurbish the personalized wooden markers placed around White Rock Lake Park in our neighborhood in Dallas. He spent countless hours washing, sanding, and varnishing the weathered markers until they looked as good as new. When the Eagle Scout Badge was added to his uniform, I was reminded yet again of how much Alex is able to do.
Last year Alex and I shared center stage here in Washington for the inaugural Global Down Syndrome Foundation’s Be Beautiful Be Yourself Gala and Fashion Show. During the night, it became abundantly clear to me that it is not just the people who have surrounded Alex throughout his life who are committed to his simple declaration. The 400 people in the audience, including professional athletes, philanthropists, TV personalities, and public officials, all resounded with their dedication to the word ‘can.’ But despite the presence of these boldfacers, the children and young adults with Down syndrome were the stars of the show.
The night was a wonderful opportunity for others to gain a better understanding of the Down syndrome community, as well as of the challenges we deal with to ensure that all people with intellectual disabilities have the ability to reach their full potential. The real highlight of the evening for me, however, was watching my son receive the foundation’s Ambassador Award, for self-advocates. I believe Alex will motivate others to get involved in the cause, just like he was my inspiration to become an active advocate of the Down syndrome community in Congress.
In 2008, I joined Representatives Cathy McMorris Rodgers, Patrick Kennedy, and Eleanor Holmes Norton in forming the Congressional Down Syndrome Caucus to educate Members of Congress and their staff about Down syndrome. Additionally, our goal is to promote research and public policies that would enhance the quality of life for individuals with Down syndrome. One legislative initiative the Caucus is advocating for this Congress is the Achieving a Better Life Experience (ABLE) Act. The ABLE Act would ease many financial strains that families face by allowing them to create tax-free savings accounts to cover expenses such as education, housing, and transportation for their loved ones with intellectual disabilities. As I continue my work in Congress on behalf of this cause, there is no one else I would rather partner with than Alex. I look forward to continuing my efforts for further research to ensure that all young people with Down syndrome have a brighter future. Alex is truly a wonderful role model, and I remain confident that there will be many more occasions in his life where he will proudly declare that he indeed can achieve his goals.”
photograph by jake dean (sessions and son)
Celebrating the White House Correspondents’ Association’s annual dinner at Carnegie Library.