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UK student with Down syndrome breaks down barriers en route to graduation

Photo by Pete Comparoni | UKphoto

Photo by Pete Comparoni | UKphoto

For most students, college can be one of the most grueling and stressful times in life. There is usually plenty of fun to go around and the final result is rewarding, but the journey to reach that point rarely comes easy.

For University of Kentucky student and soon-to-be graduate Megan McCormick, the adversities were a bit steeper and the path to her commencement ceremony set for this Sunday was a rocky one compared to many of her peers.

McCormick, a 30-year-old liberal arts major, suffers from Down syndrome, a genetic disorder that alters facial features and delays cognitive development.

Growing up with intellectual disabilities, McCormick struggled through grade school from both an academic and social standpoint. In class, the course work was taxing, and she had to face the everyday challenge mostly alone. Her classmates viewed her differently than the others, and bullying soon became a serious issue.

While the challenges were apparent, McCormick always tried to maintain a hearty smile and fill the room with laughter. No matter how difficult school proved to be, she always found a way to make the most of it.

“She loved going to school and was never afraid of school,” said Malkanthie McCormick, Megan’s mother.

After working her way through high school and slowly-but-surely breaking down each barrier placed in front of her, McCormick decided to take on her biggest challenge yet.

“She always wanted to attend college, even since middle school,” her mother said.

So that’s what she did.

McCormick enrolled in classes at Bluegrass Community and Technical College, where she eventually graduated with honors and earned two associates degrees. And then in 2014, she decided it was time to take the next step in her journey and transfer to the University of Kentucky.

As a student with intellectual and developmental disabilities herself, McCormick wanted to make her mark in the field and show other individuals with similar challenges that it’s okay to take leaps of faith. In her mind, the focus needs to be on their abilities, not disabilities.

In order to do that, she began taking elementary special education classes with a focus on individuals with learning disabilities. Her end goal? To become a teacher’s assistant working with kids with special needs right here in Lexington.

“I’m talking about individuals with varying abilities, focusing on their abilities, not disabilities,” she said. “It’s important for them to understand that they can achieve anything they want as long as they can believe in themselves, believe they are capable of doing something right in life.”

Her passion for the success and development of younger individuals with similar challenges has already paved the way for an outside opportunity doing exactly what she’s always dreamed of.

Back in 2017, McCormick was hired as a part-time substitute teacher assistant at Mill Creek Elementary, where she works with students there three days a week.

“My favorite part about this job is making sure all of the children are learning, I’m trying to prepare them for the next level,” she said. “I want to push them a little bit further and higher, just like I tried to do for myself. … I like everything about the job. There’s nothing I dislike about what I’m doing, I absolutely love it.”

Now with a degree in hand to show for the countless hours of work she has put in, McCormick is hoping to earn a promotion that would keep her at the school working as a full-time assistant.

“I’m hoping I can stay at Mill Creek and work full-time,” she said. “I’m hoping next school year they’ll promote me. But look at me, I’m a teacher’s assistant! Anyone can achieve their dreams like me if they fight for it.”

Photo by Pete Comparoni | UKphoto

But it’s not just about academics with McCormick. She also regularly competes as a swimmer for Special Olympics and participates in social clubs like Best Buddies, among other activities.

While she loves to push her limits in school, she also wants to break down barriers outside of the classroom as an independent adult. And according to her father, she’s doing just that.

“Megan does her own laundry, cleans, cooks, and has her own driver’s license. She actually passed it on her first try,” McCormick’s father, Jim McCormick, said. “She drives her mother around everywhere. … She has her own apartment in the basement, cleans herself and goes about her own life. She’s extremely independent.”

On Sunday, McCormick will walk across the stage at Rupp Arena and shake President Eli Capilouto’s hand, officially breaking down the final academic barrier she set for herself all the way back in middle school nearly two decades ago. And she’ll do so with a final GPA of 3.645 and as the recipient of the 2019 Carol Adelstein Award, an honor given annually to a student or students with a disability who serve as an inspiration to the UK community through excellence in academics, leadership, extracurricular activities, and social and personal qualities.

“When she finally graduates and gets a job working with kids with disabilities, she will immediately become a role model to them,” her mother told KSR. “Those kids will see Megan, and what she’s overcome, and believe in themselves.”

For McCormick, who will become the first individual with Down syndrome to graduate from both BCTC and UK, her big moment on Sunday is just the beginning of her long-term goals coming to fruition. It doesn’t stop with the flowing blue gown or the diploma she is finally set to receive.

It’s about the lasting impact.

“I want to be someone who is remembered for generations as a legacy for others to follow in my footsteps to pursue whatever they want,” she said. “It’s important to me because I want these individuals with varying abilities to learn from me as a role model. I want them to believe in themselves like I did.”

No matter what obstacles stand in your way, McCormick hopes that you can take her story and find inspiration from it.

“You can believe in everything that you do as long as you’re being you and pursuing your dreams,” she said. “Just never, ever give up.”


Article written by Jack Pilgrim

Follow me on Twitter: @JackPilgrimKSR

14 Comments for UK student with Down syndrome breaks down barriers en route to graduation

  1. nocode96
    8:14 pm May 3, 2019 Permalink

    I make no secret I think you’re the best writer KSR has, and apparently, you’re a fairly young guy. This article took my train of thought from “dude is a great basketball writer” to “dude is a great writer”. Really well written article about a young lady and her triumphs en route to achieving her goals. Well done.

    • Jack Pilgrim
      9:04 pm May 3, 2019 Permalink

      That is incredibly kind of you, thank you! That means a lot.

    • Gnarly Wiggums
      9:44 pm May 3, 2019 Permalink

      I’m also a father of a child with DS and want say both CONGRATULATIONS to Megan and thank you for posting this story.

    • mmoss72
      9:14 pm May 3, 2019 Permalink

      Thanks for this great article. And a father of a child with DS I think it’s very important for others to see articles like this. It helps change people’s view of people with DS. Thank you for your help in changing the world

    • Irish son
      7:24 am May 4, 2019 Permalink

      Well said, This is a great story

  2. bigblue98
    8:52 pm May 3, 2019 Permalink

    Congratulations to Megan and thank you for this wonderful story. Her abilities and hard work are to be commended. Even more fantastic is the fact she will be helping others and what a tremendous role model she is.

  3. Catfan4life-original
    8:53 pm May 3, 2019 Permalink

    Amazing to see someone with Downs be able to accomplish so much. My brother has Downs and is nowhere near as high functioning but has still had such a positive impact on those he encounters. I am simply amazed by her accomplishments. Truly impressive and truly inspiring!

  4. JoeBee
    10:21 pm May 3, 2019 Permalink

    As the father of a beautiful 5 year old daughter with DS, I’m very moved by the perseverance of Megan! Megan has become a trailblazer and inspiration for Special Needs children/adults across the Commonwealth. Megan instills in me the hope, that my child can be a self sufficient, productive member of society. And to Jack, thank you.


    • rickpitinoisavampire
      12:23 am May 4, 2019 Permalink

      Another DS dad here. Thanks for the write up on this amazing young woman. My kid is finishing up high school this year and Megan WILL be mentioned in our graduation speech! So inspiring!
      Thanks for giving our loved ones a mention sir.

  5. ibescootch
    11:35 pm May 3, 2019 Permalink

    I’m also a parent of a child with Down Syndrome, and this is such a great story! Thanks for putting it out there!

    Btw, and I hate to be THAT guy, but I probably wouldn’t say “suffering from Down Syndrome” 🙂 It isn’t a bad back or cancer, and I’m not sure I’ve ever met an individual with DS that seems to be suffering. Rather, they may be the most consistently joyful and hopeful people I’ve ever met!

  6. Paw
    8:54 am May 4, 2019 Permalink

    Megan you are a Super Hero !! Great Job!! Can’t wait to see you graduate with honors!! Welcome to the Big Blue Nation, Go Get them Wildcat !!

  7. bige
    10:03 am May 4, 2019 Permalink

    Congrats Miss McCormick.
    A wonderful, and perspective changing story.


  8. Skooms
    11:02 am May 4, 2019 Permalink

    Way to go Meagan!! Thanks for the great article Jack!!

  9. Swizzle
    10:19 am May 5, 2019 Permalink