Letter in the mail is start of a dream come true for Rion Holcombe
(CNN) — Getting an acceptance letter to college is often a joyful moment, but it was doubly so for 20-year-old Rion Holcombe, a young Spartanburg, South Carolina, man with Down syndrome who received his envelope in early December.
His mother posted the video of Holcombe opening his acceptance letter to her YouTube channel, along with a brief explanation:
“Rion was accepted into a special program called ClemsonLIFE. This is an amazing two-year program for a small number (15) of young adults with special needs. This isn’t a program in which one can earn a degree. Right now, Clemson is one of five universities in SC with a LIFE program. I love that kids like Rion get to experience college life and this type of independence. Proud of my alma mater!”
As of Friday evening, the video had more than 1.1 million views.
Holcombe, who submitted a video application to the university in October, will start during the fall semester alongside 14 of his peers.
Students that complete the two-year program will receive a certificate of secondary education. Select students will be eligible for an optional third year, which will provide them with job placement assistance and community integration. The program is funded by tuition and private donations.
Joe Ryan, founder of ClemsonLIFE, told HLN that he developed the program with the idea of changing the way people with disabilities think about themselves.
“Our real goal is to teach independent living and job skills,” Ryan says. “When we see a potential student has the desire to pursue those things, those are the people we are looking for.”
Ryan also said that South Carolina is on the leading edge of these types of programs, and several have sprung up since he founded ClemsonLIFE in 2009. The program is affiliated with Clemson University.
Rion Holcombe’s mother, Susan Holcombe, told HLN affiliate KVVU they supported the decision to have their son apply to the program.
“We just felt like Rion was a really good candidate. He’s a very independent person,” she said.
Ryan is very happy to see Rion Holcombe’s video become so popular, and he says he hopes the ClemsonLIFE program can open the door for many people in the future.
“Most people with disabilities tend to focus on what they can’t do,” Ryan says. “We like to focus on teaching them what they can do.”