The Day My Son Michael Taught 500 Students about Respect

I can’t do it.

After 50+ high school and college presentations with my sons Andrew and Michael – without incident, I immediately knew something was wrong.  

The first 40 minutes of our program had run extremely smooth. Powerful. Inspiring. The 500 students in the auditorium fully engaged.

Now to close on a high note with Michael’s second song about “making a mess of things and fixing it somehow.”

You know, getting it right – at last.

A common refrain for a young man living with the consequences of Fetal Alcohol Syndrome and the devastating effects of early trauma. He knows firsthand.

With all eyes on me, I had to act quickly without shaming my son – glued to his front row seat.

What’s going on, Michael?

Two girls laughed at me when I sang the national anthem. I won’t sing again.

I’m sorry that someone made you feel that way.

I then did the only thing available to me. I appealed to the audience – hoping for a compassionate response.

Michael singing4

Michael believes two girls were laughing at him when he sang the national anthem. Now he’s afraid it will happen again. Are we ready to show Michael respect and hear his second song?

As the auditorium erupted into applause, Michael found the courage to climb the stairs to the stage.  

Singing with deep emotion, the thoughtful lyrics resonated with the students. A standing ovation followed.

Our presentation hadn’t just be saved.

It’s shook the room and impacted nearly every person. 

More than anything, I was proud of Michael for taking a stand. He used his voice in a positive way – after years of feeling invisible in high school.

That’s when few noticed that he even existed. Some talked as if he couldn’t hear them. Day in, day out.

I was equally impressed with the reaction of the student body.

No doubt, our message of “building respect, embracing inclusion” had transformed from words to action that September morning.

This uplifting story could have ended there, but it didn’t.

Michael singing3

Nearly 100 students approached the stage – instead of heading to lunch. One by one they expressed their appreciation.

Our school needed to hear this message.

I need to expect more of myself.

I will remember you and work harder to make a difference.

You are an inspiration. I won’t forget how you made me feel today.

Many took selfies with my sons. A handful overflowed with emotion – respectfully asking for hugs.


Exactly the impact we’ve grown accustomed to delivering.

There’s more.

Upon walking to the parking lot with a school administrator, two girls approached us. Not just any two girls, but the ones Michael had called out.

We didn’t mean to upset your son. We weren’t really laughing at him.

Thank you. Why don’t you tell him? I’m sure he’d like to hear your words face to face.

Then I proceeded to give them 30 seconds of thoughts for personal reflection – about respect for the national anthem but also respect for a presenter at all-school convocation.

People have feelings. Actions have consequences.

The two girls then walked to Andrew and Michael. For the next five minutes, the four engaged. Both of my sons listened and thankfully kept their cool.

Although Michael appreciated the gesture, it rang hollow. The two never took responsibility. The two never admitted being in the wrong.

My son knew the difference. Better yet, he could now articulate it – which made parenting him through hundreds of meltdowns over two decades worth the effort.

Later my sons and I learned an interesting twist. Several brave students had confronted the two girls right after the presentation – which pushed them to apologizing before we left campus.

Positive peer pressure at play.

Bullying stopped in its tracks.



A teachable moment for hundreds of students.

We hope to do it again and again. DCP


Craig Peterson publishes EACH Child every Tuesday. To subscribe, open this link and “Like” the page. EACH Child is Special: Working Smarter Not Harder to Raise Every ONE

To follow Craig’s journey in raising his six children with special needs, click here: Adopting Faith: A Father’s Unconditional Love

To follow my son Andrew’s inspiring story, “Like” his special Facebook page NoLimitsAndrew – Andrew Peterson

To watch Andrew’s amazing ESPN 14-minute documentary, click here. Andrew Peterson ESPN Documentary

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