A Friendship Formed Through Best Buddies

My (Tom Jackson, Zeta Theta Chapter) friendship with Jack Shepherd all started my freshman year when I decided to get involved in the local Best Buddies chapter at the University of Texas at Austin. As a freshman, I wasn’t really sure what organizations I wanted to get involved in and one of my brothers, Daniel Dosal, suggested that I come out to one of the events to see if I liked it.

I went to my first event and immediately knew that this was something that I wanted to get more involved in. After being a volunteer for roughly one year, I decided that I wanted to be a college buddy and be paired with one of the individuals in the program. I had met Jack previously at one of the events in spring 2013 and when I heard that his previous buddy had graduated from UT, I knew that I wanted to be paired with him.

Jack and I have been paired as buddies for a little over two years now and it’s amazing to see how much we have grown as friends and as individuals. We hang out almost every week, whether it is going out to dinner, going to Zilker Park, or engaging in some other fun activity. Our favorite series of adventures has definitely been the hunt for the best queso in Austin. For those of you who aren’t familiar with queso, it’s a delicious melted cheese dip that’s usually mixed with a few other ingredients such as tomatoes and/or peppers. After trying almost every notable Tex-Mex restaurant in Austin we came to the conclusion the Guero’s Taco Bar had the best tasting queso in Austin. If you’re ever visiting the city, I highly recommend that you try it out.

Fun fact about Jack – he absolutely loves rollercoasters! I went to Six Flags in San Antonio with him and his father in August of 2014 and I had no clue that we would end up riding just about every rollercoaster in the park. I’m a huge fan of rollercoasters as well so our trip there was an absolute blast!

Now that Pi Kappa Phi has partnered with the national Best Buddies organization, I hope and strongly recommend that my fellow brothers across the country get involved. It has been a fantastic experience and I’m going to be a part of for the rest of my life. I’ve learned so many valuable life lessons from interacting with the amazing individuals in the program and it’s truly helped me develop myself as a exceptional leader. The most important lesson I’ve taken from my involvement in Best Buddies with Jack is to not take life so seriously and to have the most amount of fun possible with everything that I do. This mantra has significantly improved the quality of my life and I cannot thank him enough for teaching it to me.

I want to end this article by discussing the important issue surrounding the general populace’s knowledge about Down syndrome. There needs to be more education and awareness about individuals who have the condition. Many people have the misconception that individuals with Down syndrome are not able to function in normal society or behave like a regular person would. This is flat out wrong. I won’t lie, I fell victim to this misconception before I became involved with Best Buddies and was paired with Jack. I wasn’t sure what to think once we first met and, admittedly, I was a little nervous about being able to talk to him and actually develop a genuine friendship. He quickly proved me wrong. We’ve had so many fantastic intellectual conversations and he’s helped me get through a few tough times in college by simply talking about what was going on in my life. Jack has an amazing girlfriend named Christina that he’s been with for over a year now and it’s been inspiring to see how well he treats her. You can add that to the litany of life lessons that he has taught me. Jack, as well as all others who have Down syndrome, are amazing people and have so much to offer society, but usually are not given a fair chance to contribute. Individuals with Down syndrome are normal people and should be treated as such. Yes, they may look and act a little differently, but aren’t we all different in our own unique ways?