Taking the Elliott Hall stage at Purdue University by storm during the morning plenary July 13, Miah Noel Yager brought a brilliant smile, boundless energy and a resounding message to the UCC's National Youth Event 2012.
"I am about to do a new thing," said Miah, the youth keynote speaker, who has Down syndrome.
"I just graduated from high school and am going to college in the fall," said Miah, a graduate of Fairview High School in Boulder, Colo. "I need to learn to live without my parents, and I need to know what a dorm room looks like. I will make a way in the wilderness."
At one point in her speech, Miah had difficulty with her delivery. "Sorry about that," she said, smiling broadly. Her audience –– many of whom moved to tears at some point in the speech –– responded immediately with shouts of love and encouragement.
Miah said her path to understanding and acceptance has been painfully challenging.
"In high school, you had to have the right clothes and wear them the right way," said Miah. "You had to be in the box, and I’m not a person to be in a box. At my church, I’m accepted as I am. I can be silly and break out in song, and my friends laugh out loud."
Church can be fun, said Miah –– and it can be challenging.
"Church is a time commitment, but it's a time commitment to something that is bigger than me," she said.
Miah has attended church work camps in Texas, Arkansas and South Dakota, and has been involved in songwriting, dancing onstage and set design.
To the loudest cheer of the speech and a sustained standing ovation, Mia said, "We can build a better future."
Members of the House of Judah band, seated behind Miah onstage, arose and approached her, offering warm hugs of support.