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  • Photo: That's me, Nicki Pombier Berger, with Sara Wolff at the National Down Syndrome Society Buddy Walk on Washington in March, 2013.

    Sara Wolff is a motivational speaker and advocate for individuals with Down syndrome and other developmental disabilities. Sara herself has Down syndrome, and I interviewed her about her experiences growing up, becoming a public speaker, working as a law clerk and as a professional advocate, about the friendships and other important relationships in her life, and about her hopes for her own future. In this excerpt from our January 2013 interview, Sara describes some of her more memorable performances from the variety show she participated in for all four years of high school.

    Nicki Pombier Berger: Tell me about your first variety show.

    Sara Wolff: Oh that was hysterical. I surprised everybody, surprised my family. It was fun, it really was. Nobody knew what I was going to do.

    Nicki: What did you end up doing?

    Sara: I ended up dancing to NSYNC, I don't know why I picked NSYNC, I should've picked Backstreet Boys. But I surprised everyone and it was fun.

    Nicki: Tell me about the performance that afternoon at the variety show.

    Sara: People were, like, screaming, I felt like I was a performer. It was fun. And that night, everybody came out from the community to see it. I danced, and I became friends with a lot of seniors, there were seniors who ran up to the stage and like went crazy. It was pretty fun. People were talking about it for a long time, for a very long time. They still talk about it. And so then, each year I had to update my game. The last year was my favorite ‘cause I did Michael Jackson, and that was my big thing you know. Michael Jackson was part of spirit week, and I wanted to take over 'cause I love Michael Jackson, and I knew the moves and stuff, so I taught myself some Michael Jackson moves that year, I did the moonwalk and stuff like that, I could still do it if I wanted to. I saw him once, I think it was for the Grammy's that year, I remembered him taking off his jacket, and went down here and did that thing on his face, that's what I was doing at the variety show. I took off the jacket, and threw it in the audience. I took off my shoe once, and the glove. So it was pretty fun.

    Nicki: That's amazing.

    Sara: Yeah. I did a mix of songs, the Man in the Mirror. I did Billie Jean first. That was more fun because I got people crazy, like I did the hand on the thing, I went like that, that was more fun. People were like, how'd you know how to do that? [Laughs] And I took off my stuff. That year was so much fun, my senior year, because of Michael Jackson, that's why. Yeah, the seniors made it special for me that year. It was really cool.

    Nicki: What did they do?

    Sara: They just ran up to the stage, and made me feel like I was an entertainer, you know? I love the variety show. I've been going to see it a long time. Oh yeah, and I actually, that year when I was doing Michael Jackson, I remembered him running from the back to the stage, and I did that one year at the variety show, I had a hand out like this and I slapped people's hands along the way, and I got people going. It was fun. I love surprises.

    Nicki and Sara: [Laughter]

    Nicki: Well it sounds like you love performing, too.

    Sara: I do. I make up my own dances in my room.

    Nicki: Do you still?

    Sara: Yep I still do.

    Nicki: Are there places to dance around here?

    Sara: Yeah, I choose not to go cause driving-wise, but I do it in my room.

    Read Sara’s stories here:

    This is a transcribed, edited excerpt from a life history interview I conducted for my thesis in the Oral History Master of Arts program at Columbia University, in which Sara Wolff shared with me her life experiences and reflected on her role as an advocate for herself and others with disabilities. The full interview was conducted on January 5, 2013, in Moscow, Pennsylvania, and will be submitted to the Regional Oral History Office at the University of California, Berkeley, for inclusion in the Disability Rights and Independent Living Movement archive. I will also submit a methodological paper providing context for and analysis of my process conducting and sharing life history interviews with self-advocates with Down syndrome to the Academic Commons at Columbia University. If you would like to know more about my process, please contact me here. With gratitude to the National Down Syndrome Society for their early support of this project.
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