Graduation season may have passed, but there are some accomplishments worth celebrating any time of year. Take Cody Sullivan’s story, for instance.
When Sullivan left Concordia University in Portland, Oregon, earlier this year, he was the first student with Down syndrome to enroll for four years of college in Oregon.
It was a seed he planted back in high school, spurred on by the hopes and dreams of his classmates.
"My senior year of high school all my friends were talking about college. I love to learn, and my friends were going to college," he told MNN via email this week. "I asked my mom and she helped me figure out how I could go to college too! It was a first in Oregon for someone who has Down syndrome!"
His mom, Ann Donaca-Sullivan, says she was surprised when he approached her with the idea.
"Honestly, I was completely blown away," she said. "Cody has always been the instigator in his inclusive life. We've learned to follow his lead and to accept that anything is possible. He's an inspiration and a trailblazer!"
Donaca-Sullivan worked with Concordia University to develop a pilot program. She said she wasn't surprised there weren't any all-inclusive higher-education programs already in place.
"For all of Oregon's important causes, this is one that has greatly lacked the light. People with developmental/intellectual disabilities need higher education which leads them to a career … not just a job."
With a lot of teamwork, they helped create a program to help Sullivan excel.
"Cody's new friends were the key," Donaca-Sullivan said. "They immediately understood the value for THEM, of having Cody in their lives in college and forever."
Settling into college life
Sullivan, 22, really seemed to enjoy the college experience.
"Health, Math, Weight Training and Handbells were some of my favorite classes. I loved all of my classes," he said. "I love studying and doing homework. In college, my favorite things were making and hanging with friends, being in luaus with the Aloha Club, helping coach basketball, and eating in the cafeteria!"
His mom said he really seemed to enjoy being a part of the school community.
"There were some bumps … like the amount of money he spent eating in the cafeteria!" she said. "The friends and people at Concordia made a huge impact on his life. I'm sure they would agree that HE made a larger impact on THEIR lives."
Sullivan was the center of attention, receiving a standing ovation when he received his certificate of achievement in elementary education.
"My friends cheered for me!" he said. "Graduation day was exciting. We had a big party at my house! We were hoping that people would notice. It's important that more people like me get to go to college."
Sullivan now has a job as a kindergarten teacher's aide, but he plans to continue his education.
"I am going to take more classes because I like to learn. I want to help discrimination stop. Inclusion Matters! For all people!"