FAU’s Academy For Community Inclusion Celebrates Milestone

FAU ACI Class of 2024 graduates Michael R. Johnson and Whitney Wiley with FAU’s mascot Owlsley. Photo courtesy Coastal Click Photography

Two very special students who have autism walked across the Florida Atlantic University graduation stage during spring commencement, marking a milestone for FAU’s Academy for Community Inclusion (ACI), a college program for high school graduates who have been diagnosed with intellectual and developmental disabilities, including Down syndrome and autism.

Whitney Wiley and Michael R. Johnson, both Wellington residents, received certificates from ACI as the program’s 50th and 51st graduates. They were celebrated during a brunch on FAU’s MacArthur Campus in Jupiter during graduation weekend. Friends, family, ACI students and alumni, FAU staff and community partners attended. Two ACI students, Chloe Thibault and Holden Kasky, emceed the event. Holden’s father, Jeff Kasky, gave a poignant speech highlighting the positive impact ACI has on students and families.

“The ACI program is an important part of the community. Knowing that there are 51 graduates who have an intellectual or developmental disability who are working right next to any other employee is something that makes Palm Beach, Broward and Martin counties special, and that should be celebrated,” said Kelly Kearney, associate director of FAU’s ACI in the Department of Special Education. “Having our graduates find a rewarding job and becoming self-reliant is our ultimate goal, and we are so proud of Whitney and Michael, who are pursuing their dreams.”

This polo season, Wiley worked at the National Polo Center-Wellington, handing out event programs and enjoyed watching the end of the matches. The 25-year-old hopes to find a new job that involves horses.

“I was so excited because I made it!” Wiley said of graduating. “It was a really big accomplishment for me. I was so happy to wear a cap and gown. I learned how to get around the community, be safe and stay safe, health and fitness, and social skills.”

Johnson, who owns a food truck with his father, said that the ACI program helped him become a better business owner and entrepreneur. “I learned about money, employment and how to do paperwork,” he added.

ACI allows students to earn certificates in supported employment, supported community access and supported community living. These certificates are offered in an inclusive college environment on both the Boca Raton and Jupiter campuses of FAU. The program allows students to participate in college activities, clubs, events and organizations that are available to all FAU students. ACI also offers a residential experience program each summer, when students get to spend one week living in the dorms on the Boca Raton campus.

To learn more about the FAU Academy for Community Inclusion, visit www.fau.edu/education/academicdepartments/ese/aci.


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