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Vanderbilt students with intellectual disabilities break barriers as Next Steps graduates

Students said the Next Step program at Vanderbilt has allowed them to be on a campus they never thought they would step foot on.

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — For the first time in the school’s history, Vanderbilt University students with intellectual disabilities will walk alongside the rest of the student body during this year’s graduation ceremony.

Students with intellectual disabilities said the Next Step program at Vanderbilt has allowed them to be on a campus they never thought they would step foot on. Now students say they’re breaking more barriers.

Vanderbilt University parents and faculty members clapped for graduates. The students they’re cheering on are Next Step members, a flagship program focused on helping those with intellectual disabilities through postsecondary education in academics, social and career development.

“We did a mix of everything just to blend in with the other students,” Next Step Student Andre Carter said.

Carter said that from living in dorms to playing intramural sports, he and his classmates did just about everything.

“The one thing I really enjoyed though, was modified assignments because some of them were incredibly hard.”

After years of that hard work, Carter and classmates such as Theresa Broeas said graduating would be unforgettable.

“Right now, I feel great, and I’m excited to graduate with all of my friends and peers,” Broeas said.

But Next Step organizers said this year’s ceremony would look different.

“For the first time, they are walking alongside the graduating class,” Next Step Program Director Tammy Day said.

Day said these students are making history for being a part of the only intellectual disabilities program in the state and being the first to get their graduating certificate with their mentors and peers.

“The amazing thing is they are so excited to be there to cheer on the fellow graduates. They have said we want to be there and see them get their degrees and to be at the table with everybody else,” Day said.

As for Carter, he said walking alongside his friends is just the cherry on top of graduating.

“A lot of these situations and experiences are a challenge, but they’re well worth going through,” Carter said.

Program leaders said you would see all of their 2022 Next Step seniors at the March 12 graduation ceremony.