By Father Ed Dougherty, M.M.        

Last year, a young woman named Haley Moss graduated from the University of Miami School of Law. At her commencement ceremony, she gave a speech in which she offered encouraging words to her classmates, saying, “I will always be amazed by all of your talents. It’s a big world out there and I am excited to see what you will do next.”

To know the story of Haley Moss is to understand how remarkable her giving a speech at her own law school graduation truly was. When she was three years old, Haley was diagnosed with autism, and she didn’t begin to speak until she was four. A CBS News report on her life highlights that she was always determined to shatter expectations and prove her ability to succeed in spite of the obstacles she faced.

Haley first shared her story at a conference when she was just 13. She has told her story several times over the years in public speaking engagements, and she says of her involvement in such events, “I’ve always enjoyed getting to connect and share…. It takes a village to raise a child, and it takes an even bigger village to raise a child with a disability.... I realized by sharing my story, I could be a part of someone else’s village.”

Haley’s story exemplifies how struggling through challenging circumstances not only helps us to build character for ourselves, but it provides us the opportunity to show others the way through the difficulties in life, and there is no greater reward than having a positive impact on another person.

When she was 15, she wrote a book titled Middle School – The Stuff Nobody Tells You About: A Teenage Girl with ASD Shares Her Experiences. She has since contributed to a book of essays. After graduating with a bachelor’s degree from the University of Florida, she enrolled in law school to further her ability to do advocacy work.

Of her decision to go to law school, Haley says, “I wanted to go to law school because I wanted to make a difference for other people…. Lawyers help their community. What better way than to become a lawyer.”

She had a job offer lined up before she even graduated. All she had to do was pass the bar, which she did, becoming a member of the Florida Bar earlier this year. Her goal is to inspire others with her success. She says, “Whether it’s somebody on the spectrum that says, ‘Thank you for sharing your story,’ or it’s a parent of a newly-diagnosed child that tells me, ‘Wow, you gave me so much hope for my kid. I can’t wait to see what my kid’s going to be able to do when they get older.’ Yes, it’s definitely an impact.”

Motivation can come from many different places, and that has surely been the case for Haley. She began with the motivation to overcome her own obstacles. Then somewhere along the way, she realized the joy and satisfaction of reaching out to others in their struggle. And that driving force of wanting to make the world a better place has motivated her to reach a point in life that truly defies the odds.

Haley’s story demonstrates how selflessness is such an empowering force in life. I’m sure the sentiments she shared at her graduation are completely reciprocated by her classmates and many others. We’re all amazed by her talents, and we’re excited to see what she’ll do next.

For free copies of the Christopher News Note THE ENDURING VALUE OF PEOPLE WITH DISABILITIES, write: The Christophers, 5 Hanover Square, New York, NY 10004; or e-mail: mail@christophers.org.

Father Ed Dougherty, M.M., is a member of The Christophers’ board of directors.