By John Boxley, NBC News producer
It was a special graduation for a special group of students at UCLA.
12 classmates, each with developmental disabilities, were part of a first...the first graduating class of Pathway.
Pathway UCLA is a unique 2-year program, offered by UCLA Extension and created specifically for students with special needs like autism and down syndrome, giving them the opportunity to experience college life.
For the past two years, these students have lived the dream, on the UCLA campus with 36,000 other students, attending specialty classes, internships, and football games.
Organizers say one of the primary goals of Pathway is to teach these students, ages 18 and older, how to take care of themselves, while pursuing their goals. They've lived in off campus apartments with roommates, and are responsible for not only getting to class on time, but also tackling household chores like laundry and the dishes.
The program's Executive Director, Eric Lathom, says that having the experience of living on their own, and doing all these things to make their lives function on a daily basis, is an invaluable experience. He says the Pathway students have had a college experience like millions of other young people, going off to college and learning to live on their own, taking classes and having the same struggles that everyone else has had.
I, along with Peter Alexander, had the chance to meet them in 2007 as their journey first began, nervous and excited about what they would soon be facing. Now 2 years later, you can see the many steps they have taken and the growth is truly inspiring.
Whats next for the Pathway Class of 2009? Some will be moving home, and some will be continuing their education elsewhere. Organizers say that these young graduates have been given an opportunity to chase their dreams, what they do from here is up to them.