May 10, 2014

USC Graduation: CarolinaLIFE graduate achieves dream

Patrick Plunkett always said he was going to be a Gamecock.

Patrick Plunkett always said he was going to be a Gamecock.

He watched his foster brother, Ron Scott, graduate from the University of South Carolina several years ago, and he knew he wanted to one day walk across the stage as well.

But for Patrick, the odds were different, said his foster mom, Patricia Scott.

Patrick has Fragile X Syndrome, a genetic condition, so a typical university degree was not an option.

But then the family learned about USC’s CarolinaLIFE program, a special program for students with intellectual or cognitive disabilities.

Patrick was accepted, and four years later, he donned his cap and gown Saturday at Colonial Life Arena and mixed in with other graduates – smiling and soaking in his moment.

He posed for pictures and practiced the big handshake with Ron Scott. Patrick said he was excited, not nervous, about walking across the stage.

Patrick received a certificate for his work at USC.

“In his mind, this is nothing less than a college degree,” Ron Scott said.

Patricia Scott said his acceptance into the CarolinaLIFE program was an unexpected joy.

“For Patrick, I thought it was a dream that could not be fulfilled because of his disabilities,” Patricia Scott said.

From the time he was 6 weeks old, Patricia Scott raised Patrick and she put an emphasis on his education. She made sure he took special education classes until he finished with a certificate at Irmo High School.

She also had him tutored every day after school for about seven years by Earnestine Williams, a retired teacher. Williams wrote a recommendation for Patrick to get into the CarolinaLIFE program, whose slogan is “Learning is for Everyone.”

However, Williams died prior to his high school graduation and did not get to see him attend the university.

Patrick had the opportunity to attend USC through financial support from the S.C. Department of Social Services, Patricia Scott said.

As a student, Patrick commuted to school, often taking the city bus. And, like a lot of students, he “lived” at the Russell House student union, where he often ate meals and even had a job.

He also participated in extra opportunities at USC, such as taking a cooking class from the university’s first lady, Patricia Moore-Pastides.

But after many experiences, classes and four years, perhaps the highlight of his time at USC was simply being a Gamecock.

Patrick’s foster family is so proud and eager for him to be seen as an encouragement for others like him.

“Someone else needs to hear that learning is for everyone,” Patricia Scott said.

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