Greg Carlyle, Andrew Carlyle and Julie Capella visit after Tuesday's Columbus Rotary Club meeting at Lion Hills Center. Capella and Andrew Carlyle spoke about ACCESS, a program at Mississippi State University for developmentally disabled students. Photo by: Deanna Robinson/Dispatch Staff
November 29, 2017 11:11:46 AM
The Columbus Rotary has a long-standing, unwritten rule for its speakers during its weekly luncheons: You may talk as long as you like, but the Rotarians are leaving at 1 p.m. It has become sort of a running joke, so much so that speakers often mention the rule as they begin their speeches.
There have been notable speakers, certainly, men and women of great talent, status, insight and charisma. None of them got away with violating the 1 p.m. rule.
The exception arrived Tuesday. The Rotarians didn't get leave until 1:15. No one complained.
To our knowledge, no speakers have held the room like Andrew Carlyle, a 20-year-old Mississippi State freshman, along with his dad, Greg Carlyle, and Julie Capella, who is the head of the ACCESS program for the developmentally disabled at Mississippi State University.
With all due respect to Greg, a Rotarian and headmaster at Heritage Academy, and Capella, it was Andrew who owned the room and commanded the rapt attention of all present.
To understand why, we begin with Greg Carlyle's introductory comments. Andrew, the middle child of Greg and Ann Maria, was born with a congenital heart defect which led to a stroke as an infant, limiting his intellectual development.
Andrew's first neurologist told his parents the child would probably never talk or walk. The Carlyles responded by finding another neurologist, perhaps a sign of genetic stubbornness that would follow their son in the ensuing years.
"In our journey, the people who have been very supportive of Andrew usually fall into one of two categories," Greg Carlyle said. "The first group are those who want to limit Andrew and his abilities. The other category are people who want to see what he can do to realize his potential. The people at ACCESS fall into that second group and truly want to see what a student like Andrew can achieve."
For six years now, MSU's ACCESS Program -- an acronym for Academics, Campus life, Community Involvement, Employment Opportunities, Socialization, Self-Awareness -- has been working with developmental disabled young people. The program is designed to mainstream the kids into campus life, but the larger purpose is to address the one question that must surely haunt every parent with a disabled child: What happens to that child when the parent can no longer care for them?
For 30 minutes, Capella outlined how the program helps the 16 students currently in the program move from dependency to independence, an answer to that disturbing question.
It was in impressive presentation. The students aren't treated like little kids: They are challenged and pressed, exposed to new situations and fully immersed into the college experience.
"One of the ways we like to tell about the program is through our students," Capella said. "Our students love to speak, and since we were coming here where Andrew's dad is a member, we thought Andrew should come with us and share what he's experienced in the three months he's been in the program."
The young man who wasn't expected to ever learn to speak or walk, walked confidently to podium and presented his own power-point presentation in a clear, confident voice.
Under the power point header: "What ACCESS means to me," Andrew offered his answers.
"I was a Mississippi State fan since I was a little kid," he said. "I like to interact with people. I feel like I am with another family."
On his favorite thing about college:
"Going to football games," he said. "Living on my own. Getting to be independent. Getting to know other people, getting to meet sports players like Nick Fitzgerald and Kylin Hill. Getting to make my own decisions."
On his future plans:
"I want to be a football coach and a high school government teacher."
With that, Andrew Carlyle smiled, thanked his audience and left the podium to a thunderous applause. Some Rotarians gave him a standing ovation, another thing that simply never happens at Rotary Club meetings.
It makes you feel bad for next week's speaker, in fact. You can bet the 1 p.m. rule will be strictly enforced then. Only exceptional speakers are allowed to break that rule.
Andrew Carlyle is in that group of one.
Slim Smith is a columnist and feature writer for The Dispatch. His email address is [email protected]
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