Three students with intellectual developmental challenges graduate from NSU

TAHLEQUAH, Okla. — Michael, Sarah and Laney made Oklahoma history as the first adults with intellectual developmental challenges to graduate from an Oklahoma university.

It was standing room only as family and friends packed the Northeastern State University event center in Tahlequah to watch them graduate with NSU’s 2022 class.

Justin Chase directs NSU’s River Hawk Scholars program and said, “It really was bittersweet. We’re very, very happy for our students. They’ve worked hard the past four years. They’ve grown so much.”

River Hawk Scholars is a four-year certificate program for students with intellectual developmental challenges.

FOX23 spoke with the three grads after the ceremony about what they’re feeling.

FOX23 Reporter Catherine James asked, “It seems like a lot of hard work to get here right?”

Laney, a River Hawk Scholar replied, “Yes, I feel really happy.”

James asked another grad, Michael, “You walked across the stage and everyone cheering. How did that feel?”

Michael replied, “Very good.”

James then asked, “You feel like you achieved a goal?”

Michael said, “Yes.”

The third grad, Sarah, told James, “It feels really, really happy. And sad because I’m going to miss this program.”

The River Hawk scholar program is the first of its kind in Oklahoma.

Julie Lackey, founder of Lead, Learn, Live said it was overdue.

Lackey continued, “Until NSU started this program, students with intellectual developmental disabilities were not able to attend college, to study what they wanted to study and further learn how to be independent.”

After NSU, the University of Oklahoma started Sooner Works, and Oklahoma State University will soon launch a similar program.

Chase and Lackey said people with intellectual developmental challenges deserve the same opportunities as everyone else.

Sarah adds, “I love to be here, and thank you for this opportunity.”

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