Thoughts on Compassion: The power of Special Olympics

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Surrounded by the magnificent architecture showcased at the White House, Danielle Liebl was experiencing a life-changing event. On July 31, 2014, she joined fellow Special Olympics athletes, members of the Unified Generation, President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama for a dinner at the White House. The event celebrated the work that Special Olympics does to activate young people to fight inactivity, intolerance and injustice in their schools and communities. At that dinner, Liebl’s entire life plan changed dramatically.

Liebl was lucky enough to sit next to the First Lady’s Chief of Staff Tina Tchen. Sparking a conversation about her involvement with Special Olympics, Liebl shared that she started “DIFFERbilities Experience,” a nonprofit organization that “provides friendship and inclusion-building opportunities to high school and college students both with and without disabilities in a controlled environment.”

Liebl was proud of the work DIFFERbilities Experience was doing. However, even with starting a nonprofit that focuses on inclusion, she felt like she could make more of an impact. Amazed by Liebl’s poise and confidence, Tchen laughed and told her, “You would make a great lawyer; you should just be a lawyer.”

And just like that, Liebl’s life took a sharp turn. With no real plan, Liebl signed up for the LSAT when she got home that evening. “I don’t recommend doing that; I recommend thinking about it longer,” she says in a joking manner, expressing that the test is very hard.

It’s possible that without that conversation with Tchen at dinner, Liebl would have never started on the journey to becoming a lawyer. It’s an experience that made a life-changing impact and, even if she didn’t realize it, it was one she’d been preparing for her whole life.

After graduating from the University of St. Thomas School of Law in 2018, Liebl went to work for a large law firm and later became a lawyer for Amazon.

It was Liebl’s journey with Special Olympics and her creativity and vision to start a nonprofit organization that sparked a conversation with the First Lady’s Chief of Staff at the White House. And it was because of that conversation that law school became a possibility. It’s a story that shows just how powerful the message of inclusion and acceptance can be when it’s showcased at all levels.

(Excerpt from Specialolympics)

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