By: Dianna Hansen, Central Oregon Disability Support Network Director
Growing up in a remote part of Oregon, my high school had small graduating classes, averaging about 20 students, with no special provisions or rooms for students with unique challenges. We were like a closely-knit family, with many of my classmates being with me throughout my K-12 journey. We all meshed effortlessly, our individual differences and abilities blending seamlessly. Post-high school, I moved to a more urban Oregon setting, attended college, and started working. Over time, I gravitated towards a location reminiscent of my roots, which was more rural.
The year 2003 marked a pivotal moment in my life. My husband and I welcomed our beautiful daughter, Victoria, the perfect addition to our family, which already included two boys. However, within a couple of hours of her birth, we received life changing news. Our daughter was diagnosed with Down syndrome, atrial septal defect, ventricular septal defect and transient leukemia, now known as transient abnormal myelopoiesis. The only source of information we received from the hospital was six outdated photocopied sheets, with a copyright date from 1966, filled with disheartening predictions and information about institutions.
But life had other plans. The ensuing years were transformative as we came across uplifting concepts like high expectations, presuming competence, dignity of risk, trusting in humanity and self-determination. Meeting other individuals with similar challenges, thriving in their communities, radically changed our outlook. We realized Victoria’s life was full of endless possibilities, contrary to the bleak prognosis we had initially been handed.
As I grew up in an inclusive community with inclusive schools, I cared deeply about Victoria’s full inclusion alongside her typical peers throughout her school years. This inclusive education not only enriched her academically but also played a crucial role in her social development. Her peers and educators respected our vision, and together they formed a cohesive community where every student, regardless of their abilities, was valued.
Guided by the principle of setting high expectations, just as we did for our boys, our daughter’s educational journey began. Her educators respected our vision, and, in turn, Victoria set high aspirations for herself.
At 13, Victoria declared her ambition to become a chef. At 15, she found herself a job at a restaurant. In June 2022, she graduated high school, not only with a four-year culinary certificate and 10 credits more than the graduation requirement but also as a member of the National Honor Society.
Victoria’s involvement in 4-H, raising pigs for three years, enabled her to amass $40,000 earmarked for her college fees and future home. Her passions extend to skiing every Sunday in winter, indulging in yoga and riding her beloved horse.
In September 2022, Victoria embarked on a journey at our local community college, pursuing a degree in culinary arts. Now, as she begins her second year, both our family and the college have had much to learn. Yet, Victoria’s excelling, fueled by her dream of owning a restaurant. And, of course, purchasing her dream red Tesla and a home where she can share her space with a friend.
None of this would have been conceivable without the unwavering support of countless individuals who believed in her, assumed her competence and enabled her to **DREAM BIG**!
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