Rising above Down syndrome

Jack Pilgrim

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Megan McCormick was born with something to prove.

Down syndrome has made life difficult from the beginning, but from childhood to the halls of UK classroom buildings, she has been proving her independence.

McCormick, a 27-year-old elementary special education junior, was born with Down syndrome, a genetic disorder that alters  facial features and delays cognitive development.

Life has never been easy for McCormick. Doctors told her family that Down syndrome would limit her ability to perform most day-to-day tasks.

McCormick struggled to make friends throughout grade school because people viewed her differently than their other classmates, and she was bullied for many years. McCormick said she could not put an end to it because she did not know how to stand up for herself.

“She loved going to school and was never afraid of school,” said Malkanthie McCormick, her mother. “It was after school that she felt lonely.”

Though life was rough for McCormick throughout grade school, she learned to keep fighting. After graduating high school, she made one of the biggest decisions of her life — to attend college.

“She always wanted to attend college, even since middle school,” her mother said.

McCormick knew going to college would be one of the hardest things she would ever go through, but she was ready for the challenge.

McCormick began taking classes at BCTC, where she graduated with honors and earned two associates degrees. She decided to transfer to UK and study elementary special education, focusing on learning disabilities. She began taking classes at UK in 2014 to help reach her dream of working with elementary students with disabilities. She is currently taking two classes every Monday, Wednesday and Friday, a course load she feels she can handle with a busy schedule.

“I like this schedule because it’s very low key, and I don’t want to get overwhelmed,” McCormick said. “It allows me to participate in other things.”

Outside of UK, McCormick has a lot on her plate. She swims for her Special Olympics team, the “Fintastics,” and she also has years of experience with gymnastics and cheerleading.

Public speaking is one of her strong suits. She has spoken to large crowds on topics such as the Special Olympics, inclusion of those with and without disabilities, and education in general. Her impressive public speaking skills even allowed her to become a global messenger for Special Olympics.

The friends she has made through the Special Olympics and UK have given her a new confidence and drive.

“They made me believe in myself and showed me that hard work will pay off in the end,” McCormick  said. “They motivated me to do something big.”

McCormick’s mother believes the help of UK students completely changed her daughter’s college experience.

“Students would tutor Megan to help her with classes,” she said. “They would come to our house and hang out afterward. They became her friends, where they’d go to movies, hang out, and do things that normal friends do.”

Though classes, work and sports take up the majority of McCormick’s busy schedule, she has a wide range of hobbies that she turns to for much-needed breaks.

With being a UK student comes being a huge Wildcats fan, and McCormick takes that to a whole new level. She regularly attends football games and an occasional basketball game, along with UK swim meets. If she can’t attend the games, she watches them at home.

With all McCormick is able to achieve, it is easy to forget she has Down syndrome. Though it may take her a little longer to accomplish everyday tasks, she always puts forth her best effort and makes sure the job is done correctly. McCormick has a motivation to prove to the world she’s just as capable as anyone else on campus.

“Megan does her own laundry, cleans, cooks and has her own driver’s license. She actually passed it on her first try,” McCormick’s father Jim McCormick said. “She drives her mother around everywhere, and very soon she will be getting her own car. She has her own apartment in the basement, cleans herself and goes about her own life. She’s extremely independent.”

McCormick’s mother believes she can make an impact on the world that few others can.

“When she finally graduates and gets a job working with kids with disabilities, she will immediately become a role model to them,” her mother said. “Those kids will see Megan, and what she’s overcome, and believe in themselves.”