In a groundbreaking moment, South African school teacher Sheri Brynard has achieved a historic milestone as the world’s first teacher with Down syndrome. Her incredible journey has taken her to the global stage, with invitations to speak at the United Nations and encounters with dignitaries and celebrities, including the iconic Oprah Winfrey.
Sheri, an international Down syndrome ambassador, recently arrived in Christchurch, New Zealand, accompanied by her mother, Suzette Brynard, to share her inspirational story and encourage a message of empowerment.
Suzette Brynard, speaking on TVNZ1’s Breakfast, explained that their visit to New Zealand was intended “to illustrate that it is OK to be a Down syndrome person and to illustrate to people that you can acquire many things and you can do many things if you really want to and really try to do certain things.”
Sheri Brynard’s journey was not without its challenges. During her pursuit of a teaching diploma, she faced repeated academic setbacks, saying she failed some subjects “again and again, and sometimes again.” However, she never gave up, emphasizing that true failure only occurs when one gives up trying.
“I never felt sorry for myself. It is a waste of energy,” Sheri remarked. “I am [in] good company. Three presidents of the USA – Ronald Reagan, Jimmy Carter, and Lyndon Johnson – all needed some extra time to finish their studies, so who am I to complain?”
Sheri’s message is clear: life has no guarantees, but one should never let circumstances limit their dreams. She urged people to focus on self-measurement of success rather than comparing themselves to others. “We must never let our circumstances limit our dreams. Rather, use it to our advantage and don’t ever waste time,” she declared.
“In my life, the elevator to success has been out of order, and I have to use the stairs. I have to take one step at a time. Without shortcuts and a lot of hard work, everything worked out for me in the end, so even if it hasn’t worked out for you yet, just keep on trying. Remember to believe in yourself. If you think you can’t, you can’t. Shoot for the stars and be the best you that you can be today.”
Suzette Brynard revealed that when Sheri was born in South Africa 37 years ago, society’s perception of Down syndrome and other disabilities was vastly different from today. At that time, the prevailing belief was to place children who did not conform to a perceived standard in institutions. Unfortunately, there was little support available, including speech therapy.
Suzette also touched on the misconception that some people in South Africa believed that disabilities were the result of sin. However, upon seeing her newborn daughter, she immediately realized the beauty in Sheri’s differences from other babies.
In her school years, Sheri was only permitted to attend if she could blend in with her peers as much as possible. Suzette encouraged her to observe and emulate the behaviors of typical children to fit in, a challenge Sheri took on with unwavering determination.
Sheri Brynard, now working as an assistant teacher in pre-primary classes, expressed her passion for teaching, particularly at a “special school for learners with learning problems.” She noted the deep connection she shares with her students and how they come to her with their problems because they can relate to her. She also revealed the void in her life due to her inability to have children of her own, and how the students at her school fill that emptiness.
Sheri Brynard’s remarkable journey serves as an inspiration to the world, breaking barriers and challenging stereotypes. Her story is a testament to the power of determination, resilience, and the human spirit, proving that with the right mindset, one can achieve anything they set their mind to. Sheri Brynard, the world’s first teacher with Down syndrome, is a beacon of hope and a reminder that dreams can be limitless if we dare to chase them.