25 Life Lessons I learned from Sharon

It is great to see all of you here today.  You have all been a part of watching Sharon grow up.  You have seen her in many aspects of her life.  Sharon wanted me to give a speech here and I thought that the best way that I could pay tribute to her, would be to share with you the lessons that I have learned from Sharon during my lifetime.  I have probably learned more from Sharon, than from anyone else in my life.

So without further ado, here are the Top 25 Lessons I have learned from Sharon:

  1. Love your parents
    • Sharon’s love for our parents has been constant.  She doesn’t like it if they fight or argue, but she plays mediator.  And more often than not, they agree that she was right.  She adores her Dad and wants him in many situations. But when she is really sad or hurt, then she turns to her Mom.  She has learned so much from each of them and she has taught them many of these same lessons that I am about to share with you.
  2. Smile
    • Sharon has an infectious smile.  Smiling helps all of us feel better, and Sharon does it often. Her smile makes everyone feel welcome.
  3. Laugh
    • Her laugh is contagious.  Sharon has a great sense of humor and her laughter warms the room.
  4. Remember people
    • Sharon has an amazing memory.  She has worked and interacted with so many people in the community.  If she has met you once or twice, she will probably remember you.  If she has shared a meal with you, she will NEVER forget you.   Her uncle Jerrold used call her Google.
  5. Keep your sense of humor
    • Sharon has a terrific sense of humor. Though her disability may impact some areas of her life, she has an incredible ability to know when people are joking.  She can laugh at herself, her brother, her Dad, her Mom and everyone around her.  She enjoys being teased, and she likes to tease back.
  6. Enjoy life
    • Many of us rush through life and don’t take the time to observe the small things.  Sharon frequently notices and expresses her appreciation for them.  A pretty flower, a nice painting or an animal walking by.
  7. Try your best
    • Sharon has had plenty of struggles in her life.  But she keeps trying. She does her best. 
  8. Accept differences
    • Sharon doesn’t see disability, race, religion, gender or sexual orientation. She sees kindness. She notices how people treat her and how they treat others.
  9. Have your own TV
    • In today’s world that probably means having your own phone.  But throughout her life, TV was a very important way for Sharon to entertain herself.  She has an uncanny ability to know exactly what shows are on.  Despite her difficulty with fine motor skills, Sharon could dial thru the old cable boxes and tune in to exactly which show she wanted.  I Love Lucy, Golden Girls and Andy Griffith were among the favorites.   She also learned so much about items at the supermarket?  From the TV commercials, she could name most of the brands in the store and virtually any restaurant you drove by.  Just don’t ask her to let you put on football, golf or any other sport J
  10. Pay attention to what’s around you
    • Sharon is very observant.  She notices the little things.  Sometimes, even if you don’t want her to.
  11. Participation is more important than winning
    • Sharon loved participating in the Special Olympics.  She ran the 50 yard dash and participated in the softball throw.  But she loved participating in all kinds of activities. She would play baseball with us outside and loved to pitch the ball. She played cricket with her cousins in Israel. She played ball with the dogs.  She thrived on the enjoyment of participation.
  12. Say you’re sorry
    • Few of us properly apologize.  We all make mistakes. We all get upset. Sometimes we are right. Sometimes we are wrong.  But Sharon has a great sense of her own behavior and will come up to us later and apologize, sometimes even when she was justified in being upset in the first place. 
  13. Sleep whenever you are tired
    • Most of us get cranky when we are tired.  But we don’t go take the nap we might need.  Sharon has no qualms about getting a bit of rest when she needs it.  And you see her wake up refreshed and usually she is perfectly happy to just pop up and get right back to whatever activities are planned next.
  14. Demand your private time
    • Sharon is very comfortable going off on her own.  She goes to watch TV to take a break or when she just needs a bit of space for herself.
  15. Know yourself
    • So many of us are reluctant to ask for what we need.  She knows herself well.  If she is upset or anxious or stressed, just will often say “Me go calm down for 2 minutes”.  Sometimes it is 1 minute, sometimes it is 5.  But she knows herself. And that strategy would probably serve most of us well.
  16. Perseverance
    • In his famous speech that launched the ESPY awards, Jim Valvano said “Don’t give up, don’t ever give up.”   Sharon exemplifies this trait.  She has faced so many obstacles.  But she always kept trying.  My parents were told that she would never walk, she would never talk and she would never be toilet trained.  She did all of those before she was 5 years old.  She keeps trying things that are difficult. She likes to feel the satisfaction of accomplishment.
  17. Enjoy your food, often
    • If you have ever been with Sharon, you know she enjoys her food.  All types.  Gourmet dishes to fast food.  Pizza to chicken to brisket.  And like me, especially dessert!!
  18. Enjoy nature
    • Sharon loves spending time outside. One of her great pleasures is taking a walk around the school grounds.  Unless it is really cold, she will go out a few times each day and take a lap around the school.  She watches the kids play, she enjoys the fresh air and in her own way, that counts as her exercise.
  19. Color outside the lines
    • You don’t have to follow the normal expectations.  DO what makes you happy. Color outside of the lines. Sharon has always been willing to be different and to express her desires to be different.
  20. Be nice to everyone
    • Sharon is never malicious.  She is always nice to everyone by default.  She cheers people up, she engages them and she thanks them.  And her demeanor makes people feel good. If we all behaved this way, the world would be a better and happier place.
  21. Play
    • So many scientific studies now have found how crucial play is in our development and in our happiness.  It brings joy, stress relief, lowers blood pressure, and relieves anxiety.  Most of us don’t play enough after our childhood years.  Sharon does it every day. Whether it is playing Uno by herself, playing with the dogs and being mean to her brother by making me DRAW FOUR in Uno, Sharon loves to play games.
  22. Be generous
    • Generosity can be defined so many ways.  Sharon’s generous spirits covers so many different components of generosity it is hard to define here.
  23. Consider others
    • When Chantal and I were buying our house in Buffalo Grove and contemplating whether or not we could afford the place, we were sitting at a Baskin Robbins. Sharon stopped eating her ice cream, got a worried look on her face and started digging in her purse.  We didn’t know what she was doing.  She pulled out the change she had from her job and a couple crumpled up dollar bills.  She proudly said “I have money, me help you buy house.”
  24. Sing Out Loud
    • Sharon is not shy about singing in person.  Most of us only open up our voices in the shower because we are ashamed or don’t think we sound good enough.  Sharon is happy to sing anywhere because singing makes HER happy.  She has enjoyed signing in her Very Special Arts Choir. They sing at Hilldale.  They sing at Badger games.  They sing at the Overture Center.  And the billboard you see on the side over there, clearly illustrates so many of these traits that you are hearing about.
  25. Treasure your birthday
    • We all have a birthDAY.   Sharon has a birth-MONTH.  February.  She celebrates all month long and loves the attention that she receives.  Fortunately for her, with her birthday on the 27th, she gets almost the full month of celebration.  And she is so HAPPY that you are ALL here to celebrate with her

So as we celebrate today, I encourage each of you to take these lessons to heart, and try to implement one or two of them in your life in Sharon’s honor.  I am willing to bet you will be thankful to her for these lessons.

Here is the video from the last few minutes of my speech

Roy Kessel’s Speech to Sharon Kessel for her 50th Birthday:
25 Life Lessons that I learned from Sharon

Here are two links for more details about Sharon’s party:

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