When Jay Handlin’s daughter graduated from college, he couldn’t be prouder. Those long years of taking courses and maintaining scores aren’t easy for anyone.
This is especially true for Jay’s daughter Rachel, who has down syndrome.
The 24-year old graduated from the California Institute of Arts with a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree, something that any would-be graphic designers and photographers could really benefit from in their careers.
Her dad is unapologetic with how proud he is of her, in no small part thanks to the public stigma there is towards down syndrome.
The stigma is so strong that you probably know it quite well already, so there’s little explaining needed here.
Still, we’re not exactly the most accommodating society when it comes to people with genetic conditions, be it Down’s or something in the neurodivergent camp of things. Making it through school and the academic world has never been easy for people who were born a bit different.
When Rachel got credit on her big day, Jay knew that the world had to know. People with Down’s Syndrome are no stranger to being doubted, denied success, and being told that they can’t do it.
We all have the hurdles we have to get over, and Rachel had a few more hurdles that most of us never have to deal with.
But overcame those hurdles she did, and her dad couldn’t be prouder. Posting his daughter’s photo to Twitter, the 61-year old parent made sure that his words were as clear as possible.
“This is my daughter, Rachel Handlin. Tonight, she earned her full Bachelor of Fine Arts degree in Photography & Media from the prestigious California Institute of the Arts, @CalArts . Rachel has #Downsyndrome. I am officially the proudest father on the planet. Fight me.” – Jay Handlin on Twitter @jayhandlin
His pride and love for his daughter caught a whole lot of attention, including from news outlets like PEOPLE. The stigma towards Down Syndrome has been around since knowledge of the condition has existed.
It’s never been an easy ride for those born with it, and the not-so accommodating nature of most societies has been a historically exacerbating factor. A good portion of people with the condition have quite some trouble making it through school, which is why better accommodations for special needs students is long overdue.
With the attention and platform he was provided by PEOPLE, Jay was quick to get straight to the point.
“This is a very rough, ballpark calculation, but out of all the people with Down syndrome in the world, those who’ve earned a regular college degree are literally about one in a million. That’s not because they’re the only ones who could do it. They’re the ones whose families refused to let their children’s futures be denied, who fought unfair odds, social biases, low expectations and systems stacked against them, and somehow managed to win,” – Jay Handlin says in an interview with PEOPLE
Rachel’s parents made sure to watch and foster her love for art at a young age.
It may have been said before, but the support from your parents is quite the crucial thing for a child deciding their passion.
“The first time we took her to Musée d’Orsay, Laura was carrying Rachel when we entered the Van Gogh gallery and it was like an electric charge went through Rachel’s body. She had an instant, strong, positive physical reaction to the art.” – he continued
Rachel has some great things ahead of her, and she’s already proving what a boss she is.
Her Instagram is as good a place as any to see her work. Rachel’s skills with photography make it very clear why she got a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree. Rachel also won something else : the role of a much-needed role model for kids with the syndrome everywhere.
Now, they can look at Rachel and feel like they can do whatever they set their mind to, something most of us without the syndrome have the luxury of feeling all the time.
You go, Rachel! And we shouldn’t hold back from praising her parents either, who supported her every step of the way. Don’t forget to share this article, and let other people see Rachel’s success story.
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