Developing a Plan Hero

Celebrating Inclusive Friendships: A Tribute to Eli

We are thrilled to share this essay which highlights the beauty of inclusive friendships. Anna Orr, a student at Byron Center Christian School (Grand Rapids, MI), wrote this tribute to her friend Eli Sytsma, a classmate who has Down syndrome. We hope you enjoy it as much as we did!  

My Tribute

Eli Anna 2015 FCRC Middle School YG Christmas 1024x683

Anna and Eli at a church banquet.

The person that I chose to write a tribute to is Eli Sytsma. Eli is such a nice and great person. He is one of my good friends and our families also have become very close. If anything happened to Eli I don’t even know what I would do.

I have always wondered how Eli’s thought process works because he has Down syndrome. I always wonder how hard it is for him to comprehend something, or just try to hold a conversation with someone. You can clearly see when he is frustrated and he has a lot of things in his path that he has to overcome. I can’t even imagine if life and school was that hard to understand. Eli is probably about the kindest person that you can meet. He is very funny also.

Eli will always give you a good laugh even though you really don’t feel like laughing, I don’t even know if he tries that hard to make you laugh, that is just who he is. If you are crying and have your head down he will get right up in your face so you can see him and just start laughing hysterically which causes you to laugh even more. If you don’t feel like laughing then he will wrap his arm around you and wait until you stop crying. Eli will always have your back and protect you from the bullies of the world.

Eli is definitely a very important role model in my life. I know that sounds a little weird to some people, but you need to look at it a certain way. Eli has taught me so much, I have learned so much kindness from him because he is just kind to everyone. Another thing is you look at Eli and you really can’t understand what he is going through because you have a perfect body and mind. I just have so much respect for him because of all of the things that he has to overcome and yet he still is so happy and fun. Eli has helped me understand people with special needs better and how to be nice to them. I don’t look at them like some people do as in, “Oh no this weird person is actually talking to me, is he going to touch me?”

Eli has taught me to interact with other people with special needs and be kind to them. In return this has helped me be kind to everyone. You don’t look at people the same. You don’t think of some people as weird, but instead, you think of them as all brothers and sisters of Christ made in their own special way.

You learn so much from Eli, if you just look a little deeper. All of the struggles that he has to overcome; the sleep studies done on him, or when his little sister isn’t feeling good and he gets frustrated and worried about her, or when he has a bad day at school and he doesn’t get to ride the bus home. He gets home and just shakes his head, “Bad day today.” I can’t even imagine what it would be like to not have such a capable body and mind. The way he deals with it and handles it is like a trooper. This just helps us learn that we need to be thankful for all that we have and can do. Just the privilege of being able to read good, or play sports. This also shows us that we need to use our bodies to the best of our abilities and to praise God despite our difficulties. Another thing that we can learn from Eli is that we all have impurities, but we are still perfect and we should treat other people like they are perfect. Everybody has disabilities we just need to chose if we want to make fun of them or look past them and find a really great person.

Thank you Eli for giving me a smile when I really need one. For always having my back through whatever happens. Thank you for teaching me to be kind to everyone and that we are all perfect even though we all have disabilities.

Katie Barkley 01
Katie Barkley

Katie Barkley was the marketing and communications manager at All Belong.