Going to school can be a demanding obstacle for many, but some people are more than up for the challenge. For Dylan Kuehl, being a student has been a challenging joy. The 38-year-old has had a passion for studying, and believes that the more he learns, the more he learns to see the world differently. This open-minded approach and enthusiastic mindset is all the more inspiring as Kuehl has Down syndrome. He knows the struggle of bucking stereotypes and breaking new ground from a lifetime of experience of being different. He has sustained his ability to shine as a unique individual by graduating from The Evergreen State College in Washington State. Kuehl is the first person with Down syndrome in the college’s 51-year history to earn a four-year degree. Not only that, but this also makes him the first person with Down syndrome in Washington state to achieve this remarkable milestone.
Kuehl's passion for creativity led him to study for a Bachelor of Arts degree. He enjoyed classes in painting and dance as part of his curriculum, but his primary focus was writing. Out of 900 graduates, he was one of three to be selected to give an address at the graduation ceremony.
“Celebrate your abilities,” Kuehl tells his fellow students in his speech. “Live your life with ambition and pride.” We can all take a leaf out of this inspiring man’s book which is bound, it seems, by enthusiasm, positivity, determination, and a whole lot of motivating hard work.
Down syndrome is a condition where a person is born with a full or partial copy of the 21st chromosome, and can lead to varying degrees of developmental delays and disabilities. This means that the ease of fitting into society and in formal and informal structures that most of us take for granted is more difficult for people like Kuehl, who have physical or neurological differences.
Aside from graduating college, Kuehl is also an entrepreneur. He started his own visual and performing arts company called DK Arts in 2005, where he sells his own artwork and glass jewelry. He plays the drums in a band called Living the Dream, advocating for inclusion through his music.
In his graduation speech, Kuehl speaks of the “Yes” team that he built around himself to get beyond the discouragement and stereotypes that still surround his condition. He thanked his fellow students, his teachers, tutors, and his mother for their support. Grateful to all those who are behind him, Kuehl still makes it clear that achieving his degree was through his own hard work and determination. “Every single one of us has a personal adventure that is waiting for us to explore,” he tells his fellow graduates, and now the world.
Kuehl’s experience shows us that many of the barriers that people face in their lives are faced in the environment, and not only in how differently their bodies or brains work. Kuehl acknowledges the Evergreen State College for their acceptance and inclusion of students like himself, and says that diversity and inclusion creates a well-rounded community. It's only when learning and other institutions like his college open their doors and provide support to accommodate all people that we will all enjoy a truly inclusive society. Kuehl, with his charming confidence, wants his own revolutionary achievements to open doors for other students.
“When life gives you lemons, make lemonade out of it,” Kuehl says. He encourages his fellow graduates to use their skills to create a beautiful, diverse environment. He may be the first person with his condition to graduate from Evergreen State College, but we're pretty sure he won't be the last. Kuehl is set to keep surprising us with his inspiring and creative pursuits.
To experience the zeal of Kuehl's optimism and determination, watch his full graduation below, and to support his creative work, check out DK Arts.