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Skagit Valley College graduate receives honor

Skagit Valley Herald - 3/2/2021

Mar. 2—MOUNT VERNON — When she was born, doctors thought it unlikely Jessica Lonergan would ever walk, let alone graduate from college.

In June, the 21-year-old — born with a variety of challenges including Down syndrome, cerebral palsy and autism — defied the odds, and graduated from Skagit Valley College.

"She was so proud to be there and to be a student at Skagit Valley College," said Lonergan's mother, Joy Caldwell, who is almost done with her own studies at the college. "Many students with developmental disabilities don't get that opportunity."

Not only did Lonergan defy the odds and graduate, in February she was chosen by Skagit Valley College'sBoard of Trustees as its annual nominee for a Transforming Lives Award.

"We nominated her because she's a walking, talking miracle," said Flora Perez-Lucatero, vice chair of the Skagit Valley College Board of Trustees. "What stands out about her is her perseverance and desire to achieve her goals and dreams despite her disabilities."

Each year, the boards of each of the state's 34 community and technical colleges nominate one student who has had their life transformed by higher education.

Of those nominees, the state Association of College Trustees typically picks five or six students to be honored statewide. This year, the state association honored all 34.

"We feel she truly is an inspiration and a light of hope for so many other students out there who want to attend college but may feel it may not be for them," Perez-Lucatero said.

Lonergan is a graduate of the college's Individualized, Next Step, Vocational Education and Social Skills Training (INVEST) program, which allows developmentally delayed students the opportunity to go to college and learn skills that will help them lead more independent lives.

Without it, her mother said, Lonergan likely never would have had the college experience, one her mother says was Lonergan's "dream come true."

Lonergan's favorite part of college was her friends and the Campus Christian Fellowship club of which she was a member, she said.

With what she has learned in the INVEST program, Lonergan, a Mount Vernon High School graduate, has taught workshops for other developmentally delayed students about the technology and skills she has learned in order to be successful in college so that they can do the same.

While Lonergan is proud to have received the award, she sometimes doesn't understand the gravity of the honor, her mother said.

"It's such an honor and a privilege," Caldwell said. "The moment can be lost on her, but it's not on me."

Attending Skagit Valley College has increased her daughter's confidence, Caldwell said. Since graduating, she has taken on a job as a hostess at a La Conner restaurant.

For Lonergan, it's just another achievement in an already extraordinary life.

"She thinks she's a rock star all the time," Caldwell said.

— Reporter Kera Wanielista: 360-416-2141,, Twitter: @Kera_SVH,


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