WASHINGTON - It is that time of year as 2016 graduates are receiving their diplomas. On Tuesday, graduates at Woodrow Wilson High School gathered at American University's Bender Arena for their big day.
But it was an especially big day for one graduate in particular who made history on this day. Madison Essig said walking across the stage with her diploma was a proud moment for her.
“I'm so happy I'm graduating,” she said. “I have come so far in what I have done.”
Essig is the first student with Down syndrome to graduate from Wilson High School with a full diploma. She is also likely the first student with Down syndrome to graduate from a D.C. Public Schools with a full diploma.
“When Madison was born, we were told she would walk, but there was no guarantee that she would ever read or write,” said her mother Kimberly Templeton.
Madison and her mother said the biggest obstacle in her development wasn't Madison's ability – it was the education system. Schools were reluctant to give her access to the full curriculum because they told her it simply hadn't been done before. So Templeton pushed.
“What I wanted was her not to be labeled as a kid with Down syndrome, but just be a kid who had the opportunity to achieve,” she said. “Until she proves she can't do it, let’s not stop her now.”
Essig not only proved she could do it, but she rose to the top. She graduated as a member of the National Honor Society with a 3.7 grade point average.
“I hope Madison serves sort of as an example that it is possible for someone with Down syndrome to reach their full potential if given the opportunity,” said Templeton.
“Don't give up,” said Essig. “Honestly, school will be your best friend even though you might not like it. It is going to be the building block to a lot more stuff that is going to help you in life.”
Essig has been accepted into the George Mason University’s LIFE program. She is looking at studying disability and advocacy policy, especially in the education system.
“Let’s just see where life takes me,” Essig said.