Trailblazer AnnaRose Rubright is making headlines for fulfilling a personal ambition. The 24-year-old has become the first student with Down syndrome to graduate with a bachelor’s degree from Rowan University.
AnnaRose, from Medford in New Jersey, studied hard to maintain her excellent grades. She first earned her associate’s degree from New Jersey’s Rowan Community College in 2017 before transferring to Rowan University’s main campus for a four-year program.
There, she graduated with the class of 2020 with a Bachelor of Arts in radio, television, and film and a minor in journalism, achieving a 3.426-grade point average.
AnnaRose graduated from Shawnee High School in 2014 wanting to make her dream a reality: to go to college, like her friends and peers, and get a bachelor’s degree.
“She thinks for herself and does her own thing,” AnnaRose’s mother, Lin, told CBS Philadelphia. “When she decides to do something, she goes all the way.”
Lin recalled her daughter battling moments of immense frustration during her studies but claims that AnnaRose’s strong resolve saw her through. “I’m a rule follower and I stick to that rule,” AnnaRose said.
Owing to Rowan University’s temporary closure and social distancing restrictions, AnnaRose received her degree via a Zoom conference call on May 8, 2020. The young woman nonetheless described the experience as “emotional.”
New Jersey Senate President Stephen Sweeney, who was the special commencement speaker for Rowan University’s virtual graduation ceremony, also praised AnnaRose for proving the naysayers wrong, reported Forbes.
“Just don’t look at the person and say they’re disabled and they can’t do anything,” said Sweeney, whose own daughter also has Down syndrome. “Look at AnnaRose, and look at what they can do.”
John Woodruff, the director of disability resources at Rowan University, said that the 2,400 students with disabilities who studied at Rowan in the academic year 2019 to 2020 were held to the same standard as every other student.
“The standards are not lower,” Woodruff told Forbes. “They have the same expectations to complete and pass the course.”
Rowan’s students with disabilities are nonetheless encouraged to make use of campus support services, such as tutoring and study skills workshops.
“This is rare, her achievement is amazing,” Woodruff said of AnnaRose’s success. “I think it’s a testament to her perseverance not to give up.”
Recalling her daughter’s school term, Lin said that she often saw AnnaRose working hard.
“During the school term, there is not a lot of time for free activity,” Lin told Forbes. “She is sitting at that kitchen table, working and plugging away, because what takes you or me 20 minutes to read could take AnnaRose anywhere from an hour to three hours, depending on the context and the vocabulary.”
“There were times when I watched her frustration, I watched her struggle and I said to her, ‘You have an associate’s degree, you can be done if you want,” Lin said. “But she just wouldn’t quit.”
Alongside her studies, AnnaRose became an advocate for better inclusivity for herself and other people with disabilities, even addressing a panel at the United Nations. As the oldest of six sisters, the conscientious student felt compelled to be a positive role model.
Young adults with disabilities are increasingly focusing on post-secondary education, reports the National Center for Special Education Research. However, only 34 percent of those who enroll in college successfully complete a four-year program. Pioneer AnnaRose is paving the way for others to follow in her footsteps.
AnnaRose now has a new ambition. According to CBS Philadelphia, she would like to become an entrepreneur. As of May 2020, the tenacious young lady is in the process of establishing her own production company with her family.
“I just think that sometimes her dedication inspires the rest of us,” said mom Lin.