COLUMBIA—On May 21, Sam Scott and Lucy Graham became the first graduates of the DeLaSalle inclusive education program at Cardinal Newman School.
Wearing their black caps and gowns and delighted smiles, the two pioneers joined 64 of their fellow classmates to receive their diplomas from Bishop Robert E. Guglielmone at the Township Auditorium.
Susan Graham, Lucy’s mom, said being part of an inclusive environment in school was like being surrounded each day by a loving family. Lucy, who has Down syndrome, even wrote her senior thesis on the topic. In her conclusion, she notes that “to be a student at ‘a Christ-centered school that sees a child with special needs, not as broken but as sacred and holy, is a gift’”.
It is a gift that is becoming an integral part of Catholic education across the country. Bishop England High School in Charleston introduced the concept there in 2007 and served as a model for the DeLaSalle Program. Since then, Bishop England has had nine students graduate from Options — with eight of them going on to college — and currently has 11 students enrolled, although none of them are seniors.
“It’s a new way of teaching tolerance and acceptance and understanding, which is definitely part of Catholic values and our social teachings,” said Suzy Madden, director of DeLaSalle. She notes that inclusion is beneficial to everyone and promotes the mentality that all can learn and strive to be better.
“That program is changing the lives of students on both sides,” said Pam Scott, Sam’s mom. “I believe it is the single most important thing that happened in his whole life. It just makes them feel not so different.”
After the graduation ceremony, as students hugged and posed for photos, Lucy and Sam shared a special moment. Smiling broadly, Sam told his friend: “Me and Jesus are proud of you, Lucy,” Graham recalled.
It was a proud day for everyone.
“Lucy and Sam have been blessings … since the day they started,” said Jacquie Kasprowski, principal. “We knew this was going to be an incredibly special program when we started on this journey, but none of us realized just how much these precious students would teach us about life.”
Lucy will attend the Life Program at Clemson in the fall. Sam, who has autism, needs to move into new things slowly, said Scott, who works at St. Thomas More. He will continue to be part of the Cardinal Newman family as a volunteer there, plus work his way into the Life Program at the University of South Carolina.