Sooner Sendoff: OU Program for Students With Intellectual Disabilities Graduates First Senior Class
News 9-Storme Jones - May 12, 2023 6:22 am
NORMAN, Okla. –
More than 5,100 students will graduate from the University of Oklahoma on Saturday. Three students who will walk the stage thought the day would never come.
“I’m very happy to be a part of OU,” Peyton Dumas told News 9 in August of 2019. “It’s been a lifelong dream.”
That day Peyton, Bo Cochran and Madison Mason were the first ever students admitted to the University of Oklahoma’s Sooner Works certificate program for students with intellectual or developmental disabilities.
“I’m so excited to be here for this next chapter in my life,” Madison said nearly four years ago.
“I’m kind of still in disbelief that it’s already been four years,” Sooner Works Director Kendra Williams-Diehm said.
Bo interned with the Pride of Oklahoma in the fall of 2022.
“I’m just super proud of them,” Director Brian Britt told us during practice ahead of the band’s first fall football game. “I could take a whole lot more just like him. He’s a fantastic young man. Really glad to have him on our team.”
Peyton joined a fraternity in 2020 and worked at the gym.
“We’re going to go check on the machines, see how everything is,” he said as he walked around the Sarkey’s Center. “I’ll make sure treadmills are like all clear.”
Madison found a home giving campus tours and answering phones.
“I love my job and then they involve me they just help me out,” Madison said.
Like thousands of students across the state, they learned through COVID-19. All agreed a return to campus couldn’t come quick enough.
1360 days from beginning to Friday’s end as college students at the University of Oklahoma.
“When she first started, you’d get a notification that Madison started a live video on Instagram,” dad David Mason said. “And it would be just her sitting here and she’d be showing you the campus and give you the weather report and telling us how good things are going. I’d hear the birds, the weather report. I know it sounds corny and cliché but everything that happens here on campus is a highlight for her.”
The program has grown from three in the inaugural class to now thirty, program wide.
When it began four years ago, Sooner Works had one “peer partner,” a traditional student who took Sooner Works Students under his wing. Today, there are around 100 students, walking side-by-side.
“They mean the world to me just being like best friends,” Madison said. “Peer partners means they’re my friends.”
David said he thanks peer partners every chance he gets.
“It’s a wonderful thing because in Madison’s mind she’s like them. She doesn’t have a disability in her mind. She fits right in with them,” David Mason said.
Peyton, Bo and Madison all have jobs lined up for after graduation, fulfilling the key mission of the program.
“I don’t think we could’ve started with a better group. Madison, Bo and Payton have been so patient, so kind, so willing to jump in that they’ve really just been great to try anything that was thrown their way,” Williams-Diehm said. “I just saw a picture of them yesterday with all their gowns on and the tears are coming. They’re three very special people.”
When the pomp and circumstance subside Saturday, it’s certain the lives of three improbable OU students will have been changed forever.
“I’ll walk on stage holding my diploma,” Bo said. “I’ll be wearing my cap and gown. It’ll feel good on me.”
“I just want to tell the OU staff thanks so much for having me part of the OU family,” Madison said, adding “Boomer Sooner!”
A bill to expand state scholarship opportunities to programs like Sooner Works is currently making its way through the state capitol. SB 322 would provide scholarships to students specifically attending postsecondary programs for students with intellectual disabilities. The scholarship amount would cover the student’s tuition to the program.