What are trailblazers? By definition, they are people who chart a new course for others to follow, set new standards with their achievements and challenge the status quo to pioneer a new way forward.
They can be athletes in top form who break records, brainy scientists who establish new theories or doctors who perform surgeries that have never been done before. But even unsuspecting folk can themselves end up being trailblazers simply by following their dreams.
In Olympia, Washington, 38-year-old Dylan Kuehl had a simple dream: to graduate from college. But Kuehl was no ordinary student. He has Down syndrome, a chromosomal condition that affects one’s cognitive and intellectual abilities. But with drive and motivation, the determined Kuehl pushed harder than ever and can now count himself a graduate of The Evergreen State College.
“When I first started, I had people tell me that I wasn’t ready for college and it discouraged me. Instead of giving up, I built a yes team of people … who supported my goals and gave me the resources to succeed,” Kuehl said in a graduation video posted on June 9, 2022. He was one of only three out of almost 900 chosen to make a graduation speech.
A fan of painting and dance, Kuehl now holds a Bachelor of Arts with an emphasis on writing.
And by taking his scroll, Kuehl has blazed the trail and scored wins for inclusivity and diversity by becoming the first person with Down syndrome to graduate from The Evergreen State College in its 51-year history.
In his speech, Kuehl was quick to praise those around him who had supported him on his journey, crediting family, friends, fellow classmates and faculty members for motivating him to stay true to his path.
“All of our hard work, perseverance and never giving up has led us to this very moment,” Kuehl said.
He also reserved a special thank you to his college, saying: “Evergreen is based on acceptance where many other students like me can have a right to be included. Diversity and inclusion create a well-rounded community for us all.”
But even in humbly acknowledging their help, Kuehl was also clear about one thing: he earned what he achieved through “hard work and perseverance,” and nobody could take that away from him.
“We’re all here because of our hard work and dreams,” he said.
Diploma in hand, Kuehl now wants to motivate others to follow in his footsteps and dream bigger than ever.
“I want my academic and revolutionary achievements to open new doors for more students.”
There’s no doubt that Kuehl’s journey will inspire those trying hard to achieve their dreams of academic excellence and that the path he has charted for himself can serve as a guide for those facing similar struggles. To help others believe that they can achieve whatever they set their minds to, Kuehl leaves us with some pearls of wisdom.
“Celebrate your abilities. Live your life with ambition and pride,” Kuehl said, “Yes, I am the very first person to graduate here, but I’m not going to be the last.”