New Mason Video Goes Global; Asks for Pledge to End the ‘R-Word’

Posted: February 28, 2014 at 5:01 am, Last Updated: September 15, 2014 at 11:13 am

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By Sudha Kamath

Lauren and Leanne Hyer

Lauren, left, and Leanne Hyer. Photo courtesy of Leanne Hyer

A new video by George Mason University students and alumni is going viral and getting rave reviews around the world. The video features members and alumni of the Mason LIFE and Best Buddies programs making an emotional plea: “Spread the word to end the word. What word? The ‘R-word.’”

Leanne Hyer, 21, a George Mason junior from Herndon, Va., coaches Mason’s Special Olympics swim team. She and her mother Margaret started the team last year. Hyer came up with the idea for the Mason video based on other, recent videos with a similar theme promoted by Best Buddies and Special Olympics. March 5 is “Spread the Word to End the Word” Day.

“I wanted the viewers to see how special and unique the Mason LIFE program is. Programs like these allow people with special needs to have a secondary education and the college experience,” explains Hyer. “I wanted to make the university aspect a big part of the video because I do not think many people know programs like this exist.”

Hyer brought together members of the swim team and other members and alumni of Mason LIFE and Best Buddies for a couple of hours on Feb. 24 in the lobby of Mason’s Whitetop residence hall on the Fairfax Campus.  Her friend, producer Jonathan Thorpe, filmed the students as they declared “retarded” is no longer used only as the medical term to describe people with intellectual and physical disabilities; it’s turned into a word used cruelly as a synonym for “dumb,” “silly,” “stupid” and other hurtful words. Thorpe blended the powerful messages.

Then it hit the web. “As soon as I shared the video on my Facebook wall, hundreds of people reposted to their walls. The video has been shared to multiple countries and made it to almost every state,” says Hyer excitedly. “I have gotten dozens of e-mails and calls from people who just love the video and want to share it. I went to tweet the video to Mason President Dr. Ángel Cabrera but he had already tweeted it hours before. I had no idea the video would be this popular. I couldn’t be happier.”

Whitetop also is the location where participants in the video recently were interviewed for a WJLA-TV news report.

Mason LIFE provides an academic environment and apprenticeship opportunities for Mason students with intellectual and developmental disabilities. The program is supported by the Helen A. Kellar Institute for Human disAbilities in Mason’s College of Education and Human Development. Best Buddies pairs Mason’s special needs students with student mentors.

“It’s a phenomenal video,” says Heidi Graff, Mason LIFE director. “The students spoke from the heart. We are all Patriots here and we all belong here. It sends a compelling message.”

Mason Special Olympics Swim Team

Mason Special Olympics Swim Team. Photo courtesy of Leanne Hyer

For Hyer, the message is personal. Her twin sister, Lauren, is in Mason LIFE’s program, along with some of their childhood friends. “They hang out with Lauren and they have been a part of Best Buddies and Special Olympics for most of their life, like me. I have gotten to know the rest of them through Special Olympics swimming. They have become my good friends. I see their beautiful and funny personalities every day,” says Hyer. “I want the rest of the world to meet these wonderful people.”

Lauren Hyer agrees. “It feels amazing! I am so glad people love the video so much. People have come up to me on campus and recognized me. They have told me the video had a big impact on them. ”

Lauren says she thought she would never be able to attend a university. But Mason LIFE has made her feel at home. And she wants to give back. “It gives me a chance to extend my education…. I have made so many friends. When I graduate from the Mason LIFE program my goal is to live independently with roommates and be a preschool teacher’s assistant. I really love working with kids,” she says.

Leanne, a neuroscience major, believes the Mason LIFE and Best Buddies programs help bond those with special needs with their families, friends and co-workers. “I have seen how much my sister has grown since being at Mason. This program not only gives them skills for the future but a group of friends they will have forever.”

She also finds those with special needs have changed her. “They have made me a stronger communicator and an overall better person. They go through huge obstacles every day, and I have so much respect for them. You will never find a group of students who greet you as warmly as they do, who have such a unique perspective on life and who are more excited to go to a university. If you think you have Mason pride, think again. No one cheers louder for our school than they do!”

Write to Sudha Kamath at

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