The Opening Ceremonies of the 24th Annual Best Buddies Leadership Conference


The crowd went wild in this year’s Best Buddies Leadership Conference (BBLC) at Indiana University in Bloomington, IN. With chapter members and guests wearing their Best Buddies T-shirts and waving glow sticks in the air with enthusiasm, the night’s event was nothing short of outstanding. The show started off with a performance by Lisa Smith, demonstrating her gift of signing while a rendition of “Hallelujah” played in the background.

Lisa Smith, performing "Hallelujah" with interpretive signing at Best Buddies Leadership Conference Opening Ceremonies. | © Larry Levin, Best Buddies International. All rights reserved.

Lisa Smith, performing “Hallelujah” with interpretive signing at Best Buddies Leadership Conference Opening Ceremonies.
© Larry Levin, Best Buddies International. All rights reserved.

After her performance, Anthony K. Shriver, founder of Best Buddies International, was greeted with a standing ovation by the crowd. Shriver’s opening speech drew out passionate shouts and applauses from the audience and even brought out a few laughs. At one point during Shriver’s speech, he recognized the international chapters that were present in this year’s conference which made these various groups stand up and cheer. The international chapters waved their nation’s flags in unison.

Best Buddies International programs chapters waving their flags at Best Buddies Leadership Conference Opening Ceremonies © John David Arroyo, Best Buddies International. All rights reserved.

Best Buddies International programs chapters waving their flags at Best Buddies Leadership Conference Opening Ceremonies
© John David Arroyo, Best Buddies International. All rights reserved.

Before the night could get even wilder, a surprise appearance by actress Lauren Potter from the show “Glee” brought out tons of merriment from the crowd. Potter’s speech was not only optimistic, but also inspirational. Revealing details from her past where Potter used to be bullied in school, her speech related to many people who have went through similar struggles during their childhood. Towards the end of her speech, Potter made an emotional tribute to her fallen “Glee” co-star Cory Monteith, who unfortunately passed away on July 13, just a week from tonight’s leadership conference. Her tribute to Monteith brought out a rousing standing ovation from the audience.

Lauren Potter and Anthony Kennedy Shriver at Best Buddies Leadership Conference Opening Ceremonies © John David Arroyo, Best Buddies International. All rights reserved.

Lauren Potter and Anthony Kennedy Shriver at Best Buddies Leadership Conference Opening Ceremonies
© John David Arroyo, Best Buddies International. All rights reserved.

Following Potter’s speech, there was a short performance by the Academy of Athletic Arts Special Needs Squad and then a special recognition of Best Buddies Colombia. In the middle of the opening ceremonies, Shriver and Potter gave out awards, starting with the “Spirit of Courage Award” given to Daniel Noltemeyer from Louisville, Kentucky. Noltemeyer described Shriver as his “hero” and was proud that Shriver created Best Buddies.

Daniel Noltemeyer receiving the "Spirit of Friendship" Award, presented by the Best Buddies Board of Directors.

Daniel Noltemeyer receiving the “Spirit of Courage Award”, presented by the Best Buddies Board of Directors.
© Larry Levin, Best Buddies International. All rights reserved.

After the award was given and a short video montage of Best Buddies Friendship Walks was played, Ann May, Senior Director of State Development for Best Buddies, along with Shriver and Potter, gave out the “Pacesetter” awards which Arizona, Kentucky, Indiana and Orlando won. Afterwards, the “Overall Outstanding Chapter” awards were given to the middle school, high school, college and promoter’s chapters in the nation. Harbor Pilot Middle School from Dorchester, Massachusetts won an award along with Cheshire High School in Cheshire, Connecticut, Arizona State University in Tempe, Arizona and Riverdale Country School in Bronx, New York won the Promoter’s award.

Riverdale Country School in Bronx, New York receives the "Overall Outstanding Promoters Chapter Award" at Buddies Leadership Conference Opening Ceremonies © Larry Levin, Best Buddies International. All rights reserved.

Riverdale Country School in Bronx, New York receives the “Overall Outstanding Promoters Chapter Award” at Buddies Leadership Conference Opening Ceremonies
© Larry Levin, Best Buddies International. All rights reserved.

The last performance to be shown before the conclusion to the opening ceremonies, was Mike Berkson and Tim Wambach from Handicap This! who performed their comedic act on stage. Guests especially went into a frenzy during the 20 second spaghetti eating contest. Towards the end of the act, Tim Wambach said a statement that resonated to not only the audience but also brought the meaning to what the theme “Buddies without Borders” was all about.

“The shortest distance between two people is laughter,” said Tim Wambach.

Mike Berkson and Tim Wambach from Handicap This! at Buddies Leadership Conference Opening Ceremonies © John David Arroyo, Best Buddies International. All rights reserved.

Mike Berkson and Tim Wambach from Handicap This! at Buddies Leadership Conference Opening Ceremonies
© John David Arroyo, Best Buddies International. All rights reserved.

This statement brings this year’s leadership conference into a full circle and spreads the meaning of unity to the whole world.

This post was written by William Barney, Intern, Communications Dept. He was not able to attend this year’s Leadership Conference, but he watched the live stream and blogged about the opening and closing ceremonies.

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About William Barney

Online film critic for my blog "William The Reviewer" and Communications Department Intern at Best Buddies International HQ.

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