Earning a degree from a college or university requires a significant amount of effort, commitment, and perseverance; furthermore, it is not suitable for everyone. But for many people, the option was taken away from them before they had the chance to choose that route. This occurred before they even had the chance to consider it.

This may be the result of limitations imposed by one’s financial situation or, in some instances, a physical disability.

However, this determined father was not going to allow his daughter’s disability to prevent her from achieving her dream and receiving a degree from the college of her choice.




The condition known as Down syndrome, which occurs when a child is born with an extra copy of their 21st chromosome and causes delays in both physical and mental development, is one that affects one in every 700 babies born in the United States. Rachel Handlin, who is a member of the Handlin family, has Down syndrome.

The exceptionally gifted young man, who was only 24 years old, managed to graduate with a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree from the California Institute of the Arts despite all of the challenges he faced.

Those who are born with a unique physical or mental trait face an uphill battle when it comes to navigating the world of academia. The difficulties are magnified, particularly when it comes to how other people view the limits of what can be accomplished when you are unique.

But none of this mattered to Jay Handlin because his daughter had always had a strong interest in art and intended to pursue a degree in fine arts while she was in college.

When Rachel was fortunate enough to visit one of the greatest art museums in the world, her parents, who are always there for her, took note of her intense reaction to the artwork she saw there.

“The first time we took her to Musée d’Orsay, Laura was carrying Rachel when we entered the Van Gogh gallery and it was like an electric charge went through Rachel’s body. She had an instant, strong, positive physical reaction to the art,” dad Jay told PEOPLE.

This interest was something that her parents encouraged her to pursue throughout her entire life.

After receiving a Nikon Coolpix point-and-shoot digital camera for her birthday when she was in the ninth grade, Rachel was able to put her passion for photography into practice. She then went on to take photography classes in high school in order to build up her portfolio in preparation for college.

“It was clear to us that there was something unique about Rachel’s point of view,” Jay says of his daughter’s photos. “The images were really striking. These were not the kinds of photos most people would take.”

She was the first student with Down syndrome to attend CalArts, where she enrolled after completing her high school education and becoming the first graduate of that institution.

Rachel moved into an apartment off campus with her mother so that she could concentrate on her studies without the distractions of independent living. She was able to graduate thanks to her determination, hard work, and the unwavering support she received from her parents.

When Rachel was finally able to accomplish her goal, her father, Jay, had the desire to share with the entire world how proud he was of his daughter.

The father of 61 years old wrote on Twitter in response to a photograph of his daughter that he had posted: “This is my daughter, Rachel Handlin. Tonight, she earned her full Bachelor of Fine Arts degree in Photography & Media from the prestigious California Institute of the Arts, @CalArts ⁩. Rachel has #Downsyndrome. I am officially the proudest father on the planet. Fight me.”

Because so many people were quick to congratulate him on the birth of his daughter and share similar anecdotes about loved ones who have Down syndrome, his tweet quickly went viral.

“This is a very rough, ballpark calculation, but out of all the people with Down syndrome in the world, those who’ve earned a regular college degree are literally about one in a million,” Jay told PEOPLE.

“That’s not because they’re the only ones who could do it. They’re the ones whose families refused to let their children’s futures be denied, who fought unfair odds, social biases, low expectations and systems stacked against them, and somehow managed to win.”

Rachel has a bright future ahead of her and showcases her talent on her Instagram page, where she recently announced that she would be presenting her first short film at an online film festival. Rachel has a lot more in store for her.

Rachel’s parents have high hopes that she will not only serve as an example to other people who have Down Syndrome but also assist other parents in realizing that having their child diagnosed with Down syndrome is not the insurmountable obstacle they may believe it to be.

“We’d like everybody who has Down syndrome, or who has a child or a grandchild or a friend with Down syndrome, or who’s gotten a prenatal diagnosis, to understand what is possible,” he explains. “To understand that folks with Down syndrome are full-fledged people with an incredible range of abilities and potential — interesting, smart, creative, talented, funny, complex, surprising, valuable people.

“That, given the opportunities, they can and will accomplish extraordinary things,” Jay adds. “That they deserve to be full-blown members of our society, with careers, and families, and everything else that everybody else deserves and gets.”

All of the accolades should go to Rachel as well as to her parents. I couldn’t be happier for this young woman’s incredible talent, and I can’t wait to see what she accomplishes in the future. You, Rachel, are a true example for others to follow.