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5 Graduation Stories You Need to Know

Updated: Jun 30, 2021

Though it’s estimated that 90% of students with disabilities can graduate high school if they receive the proper support, only about 68% of them do. Meanwhile, according to the latest data, the national graduation rate for all students is nearly 86%.

Part of the problem is that students with disabilities, especially those with intellectual disabilities, are historically excluded from general education classes, making it harder for them to access curriculum that otherwise is available to all students. In addition, many families are not aware of the options for students with disabilities after they graduate. Think College, a project run by the Institute for Community Inclusion at the University of Massachusetts Boston, has a national database that lists every inclusive postsecondary program in the United States.

Families that advocated for inclusive education from preschool through higher education have reaped the benefits for their children. Here are five graduation stories you need to know about.

Tory Ridgeway

In Kindergarten, Tory’s mother, Vanessa, was at his school multiple times per week, advocating for him to get the support that he needed. Through the parent training programs from MCIE, Vanessa felt empowered to change Tory’s school placement to a more inclusive setting and worked with – not against – the school administration to develop his Individualized Education Program.

Today, Tory is graduating high school with a full ROTC scholarship for Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Daytona Beach, Florida.

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Marina Martinez

This year, Marina is graduating from the Destination Dawgs program at the University of Georgia’s Institute on Human Development and Disability, where she took regular classes in marketing, public relations, advertising, and journalism. According to UGA Today, "She’s particularly interested in marketing—a subject she was introduced to in high school. 'It is my passion,' she said. She’s learned about principles of marketing, consumer marketing and multicultural marketing. She loves learning and talking to people."

She is an advocate for Down syndrome, and part of her work is to educate the community about what living with the disability is like.

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Ben Kredich

We first met Ben when we came across a short film his twin brother made called “EDUCATE-ABLE: A History of Educating Children with Disabilities in America.” Since the film was made, Ben’s family advocated for inclusive education and he eventually became one of the first students to go to FUTURE, the inclusive postsecondary education program at the University of Tennessee. Ben graduated from the program this May.

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Jacob Goda

Jacob Goda standing in a hallway of St. Andrew Bessette.

Tom Hawley/The Monroe News

For the last three years, St. Andre Bessette has run the Open Door Inclusion Program. Through the program, the school has welcomed students of different cognitive abilities into its classrooms, creating individualized plans that address educational goals while still offering students a typical high school experience. Jacob, the first student of the program, will also be the first graduate of the program. The school hopes to continue to expand the program and add many more graduates to the list.

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Courtnie Taylor

At 2 months old, Courtnie was diagnosed with Williams Syndrome. Despite the obstacles she faced to be included, she just graduated from high school and is now preparing to go to Vanderbilt University after being accepted into the Next Steps Program. Next Steps is a four-year inclusion program for students with intellectual disabilities, the first of its kind in Tennessee. Courtnie is thrilled to attend the university and dreams of becoming a veterinarian.


Tim Villegas is the Director of Communications for MCIE, Editor-in-Chief of Think Inclusive, and the host of the Think Inclusive Podcast. Follow him on Twitter @TheRealTimVegas.

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