At a young age she was told she would never read, but on Tuesday, Madison Essig, who has Down syndrome, received her high school diploma.
"It means so much," the Wilson High School graduate told WJLA-TV. "I'm so proud of what I've done and how far I've come."
But, for Essig, it's about more than just personal achievement. She hopes her graduation stands as a beacon of inspiration for others within the Down syndrome community.
"I'm just really proud that she can serve as a symbol — for the Down syndrome community — of hope and of promise and of the possibilities for kids who are following," Kimberly Templeton, Essig's mother, said.
When it was Essig's turn to march across the stage of the crowded arena, the room erupted into applause. At that, a feeling of excitement and accomplishment that Essig said she has "no way to describe" rushed over her.
"I have great motivation for what I do, even though some of the work is boring!" she quipped.
But, in addition to celebrating the great accomplishment, the day was extra special for Essig because she shared the accomplishment with her younger brother, Zach, who stood right next to her in the ceremony.
"I'm happy me and my brother did this together!" Essig said of her brother as he helped turn her tassel.
Essig's brother said the unexpected accomplishment was "all her." Essig gleefully replied, "That's what he says."
After high school, Essig plans to pursue a college degree. She hopes to one day work with children who have disabilities.
"Special ed kids should not be separated," she said. "They should interact with the whole student body."
And she plans to do everything she can to one day make that happen.
"Don't give up!" Essig encouraged. "This is your moment to shine! Don't let anything stand in your way."
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