“Proudest” dad absolutely beams when daughter with Down syndrome graduates with college degree

Graduating from college is a big deal no matter who you are. For Jay Handlin’s daughter, Rachel, it is even more special. She has Down syndrome and her father couldn’t be prouder. And while Rachel has achieved her dream of a college degree, for many people with Down syndrome, this is not a viable reality.

People with Down syndrome often struggle to succeed

“This is a very rough, ballpark calculation, but out of all the people with Down syndrome in the world, those who’ve earned a regular college degree are literally about one in a million. That’s not because they’re the only ones who could do it. They’re the ones whose families refused to let their children’s futures be denied, who fought unfair odds, social biases, low expectations, and systems stacked against them, and somehow managed to win,” Handlin told PEOPLE.

Rachel makes her dad proud

So, when Rachel graduated with a full Bachelor of Fine Arts degree in Photography & Media from the California Institute of the Arts, he had to speak out.

“This is my daughter, Rachel Handlin. Tonight, she earned her full Bachelor of Fine Arts degree in Photography & Media from the prestigious California Institute of the Arts, @CalArts. Rachel has #Downsyndrome. I am officially the proudest father on the planet. Fight me,” Handlin said in a Twitter post.

Rachel was able to overcome many hurdles

As with many people with Down syndrome, Rachel had a lot of hurdles to overcome in getting her degree.

But she was able to overcome those hurdles with the strong support of her proud parents and the other people who helped her achieve her goal.

For many with Down syndrome, such an accomplishment is almost impossible to achieve.

It is hard for people with the condition to even make it through high school, let alone college. This is due in part to the stigma that surrounds the condition and society’s failure to be more accommodating towards people with Down syndrome.

The exact cause of Down syndrome is not known, only that it is present in individuals with an extra chromosome present in all or some of their cells. It is this additional chromosome that causes the characteristics most often associated with Down syndrome.

A love of art

It was her love of art, fostered by her parents at a young age, that led to her seeking a degree. One thing is for certain, her parents’ early support helped fuel her passion.

“The first time we took her to Musée d’Orsay, Laura was carrying Rachel when we entered the Van Gogh gallery and it was like an electric charge went through Rachel’s body. She had an instant, strong, positive physical reaction to the art,” Handlin said.

Rachel’s first exposure to photography came in the ninth grade when she received a camera for her birthday. Then, in high school, Rachel took photography classes which really helped her hone in on what she wanted to do when she graduated, go to college.

“It was clear to us that there was something unique about Rachel’s point of view,” Handlin said “The images were really striking. These were not the kinds of photos most people would take.”

Serving as a role model to people with Down syndrome

After getting her degree, Rachel continues to prove her skill as a photographer and why she deserves her degree. She even shows some of her art on her Instagram account. She serves as a role model for other kids with Down syndrome, showing them just how much they can achieve if they put their minds to it.

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Sources: PEOPLE, Instagram – handlinrachel, Twitter – @jayhandlin

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