Student Makes History as Oregon's First With Down Syndrome to Complete 4-Year College Program

Cody Sullivan, 22, is now working as a teacher's aide.

Walking across the stage at graduation was more than just a personal accomplishment for Cody Sullivan as he became Oregon's first student with Down syndrome to complete four years of college.

Sullivan, 22, received his certificate of achievement at the Concordia University graduation ceremony last month, declaring that while assignments and curriculum were modified for his learning abilities, Sullivan completed all the relevant coursework to make him an official college graduate.

"Cody was the first person to walk the morning of our graduation and as soon as his name was announced, everyone in the crowd rose to their feet," his friend and fellow graduate James Phillips, 22, told “He got a huge standing ovation, and I think it really summarized the impact he made here on this campus."

Cody’s mom, Ann Donaca-Sullivan, explained that as he and all his friends were graduating from high school, he kept asking her, "Where am I going to college?"

Realizing there weren’t any higher education programs for people with intellectual disabilities in the state, Donaca-Sullivan worked with Concordia University to make sure her son would get the college education he so desperately wanted.

Since his first day of freshman year, he fit in seamlessly with the community.

"I don’t believe he’s been treated different than anyone else," Cody Eastley, 27, told “Everyone has just taken him in like a friend."

With the same first name, Eastly explained that on his first day of sophomore year as a transfer student, he was confused when he kept hearing "Cody!" being called across the cafeteria.

“I see Cody is in the center of attention and I came up to him and told him my name was Cody," he explained. “Instantly from the start, that’s how we became friends."

Sullivan has even become a guide to other students looking to find their way.

"I met him my freshman year – he was my baseball coach," said Matt Schweitz, now a rising senior at the college. “He has been a part of all the sports teams, so I think that’s how a lot of people meet him."

Phillips, Eastley and Schweitz grew to be close to Sullivan and his family over the years, and even go to their home every weekend for family meals.

Sullivan has already begun his career as a teacher’s aide at a local charter school and is working to one day become a teacher.

"Our hope is that one day it’s going to be nothing special about that," Eastley said. "It’s going to be so normal to see these people spreading their gift with the world.”