Friday, July 28, 2000

Parents know graduation changes things

By John Johnston
The Cincinnati Enquirer

Liz and Mindy are daughters of Ron and Bernie Schwarm (rear).
(Luis Sanchez photo)
| ZOOM |
        When they watched two of their daughters graduate in the spring, Ron and Bernie Schwarm felt a mix of emotions.

        The Colerain Township couple felt pride, certainly. Also some sadness. And without doubt, a bit of concern about what the future might hold.

        The new graduates, both with straight blond hair, grew up together, even shared the same room for a number of years. But they are individuals, and to reach this point, they faced different challenges.

        First there's Liz, who is 18. In June she graduated with honors from Northwest High School. This fall she'll attend the University of Cincinnati. She plans to major in fine arts — she's interested in sculpture and painting — and has been accepted into the College of Design, Architecture, Art and Planning.

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        High school was not a particularly fun time, Liz says. “I just wanted to get out.”

        Her mother says: “She never did conform with the rest of the kids in high school. She wasn't a loner, but she just never cared for the way the kids treated each other.”

        In particular, Liz would not tolerate anyone making fun of slow learners. “She'd verbally let people have it,” her mother says.

        Says Liz: “I'd just stick up for people, because I don't think it's fair.”

        Her parents think they know where that trait came from.

        Liz's sister Mindy is 21. In May she graduated from Frederick A. Breyer School, which is operated by the Hamilton County Board of Mental Retardation and Developmental Disabilities.

        Mindy has Down syndrome. And a smile that can melt your heart.

        When Mindy was born, the Schwarms were told she would not live beyond her teen-age years. They were advised to put her in an institution.

        “Scared the hell out of us,” Ron says of that advice. He and Bernie decided to take Mindy home with them, “and we're awful glad we did.”

        Today, Mindy is healthy and happy. Well, she is a little bit sad about one thing: leaving Breyer School.

        It has been part of her life since her mother enrolled her in an infant-stimulation program there. Then when Mindy got older, she attended classes. She learned to read. This year, she especially enjoyed home economics and math. She participated in a variety of sports through Special Olympics. And she made many friends.

        On graduation day, decked out in a blue cap and gown, Mindy cried. She knew she would no longer be going back to the school she loves.

        Her mother cried, too, because Mindy was leaving “a sheltered environment that she knew — that I knew — for 20 years.”

        But the Schwarms know that's what graduation is all about.


        Over the years, Mindy has held a number of jobs. She now works for a retirement center. She enjoys it, she says, because “I like people.”

        Her parents are thinking about starting her in a training program through Living Arrangements for the Developmentally Disabled, so she can learn to live on her own.

        Liz, meanwhile, will be the first in her family to go to college. Her father, a machinist, grew up in a large family and never got the opportunity. Her mother worked as a hairdresser for a time, and now teaches at the Goddard School, a center for early childhood development. The Schwarms have another daughter, Jeni Roether, who is 27, and a grandson, Austin Behler, 5.

        The other day, Liz attended a day-long orientation at UC.

        “I really don't know where I'm going yet,” she says. “I just hope I don't get lost.”

        She was referring to finding her way around campus. But she could have been talking about finding her way in life.

        Ron and Bernie Schwarm hope what parents have always hoped: that they have adequately prepared their children for such major life transitions.

        They look at Liz and see her determination, and they look at Mindy and see her outgoing personality, and their mother says, “I think they're both gonna do fine.”


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