Former special education student graduates with honors

Photo by Nate McCullough

Photo by Nate McCullough

SNELLVILLE -- Jonathan Vaughn knows a thing or two about overcoming obstacles.

He also understands the value of hard work. After spending most of his academic career in special education, Vaughn graduated Thursday from South Gwinnett High School with a college preparatory diploma -- with honors.

"My dad pushed me very hard to maintain all A's and B's," Vaughn said. "He didn't want to see any C's or D's."

In kindergarten, Vaughn's teacher noticed he had trouble communicating with other students. He was tested and diagnosed with attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder and a receptive and expressive language disorder.

"My kindergarten teacher described me as being a 3-year-old in a 5-year-old body," Vaughn said.

Once his disabilities were diagnosed, Vaughn was placed in a special education program that could accommodate his needs. During his elementary and middle school years, he was served through an autism spectrum disorder program. In his first three years of high school, he was part of a program for students with Asperger's syndrome. He also had 11 years of speech therapy at school, as well as several years of private speech therapy.

Vaughn was determined to graduate from high school with a regular, college prep diploma -- and his hard work paid off. At the end of his junior year of high school, he was released from special education, and he chose to transfer from Grayson High, where he had received services, to his neighborhood high school, South Gwinnett High.

Vaughn said being in special education helped him feel more confident in school.

"I took all the skills I learned in the program ... I took everything I knew and kept on working on the same pace," he said.

He also said he had several teachers who helped him succeed.

"They taught me that no matter (what) kind of problem (or) disability you have, you just do the very best you can do and not use your disability as an excuse for being lazy or not trying," he said.

Kelli Mayo, a math teacher who taught Vaughn during his last semester, said she noticed that Vaughn was working hard in class.

"He was always asking questions and getting help if he needed it," she said.

Mayo said Vaughn excelled in her class, and during small group assignments, all of the students wanted him in their group.

Language arts teacher K. Coats said Vaughn was a diligent, meticulous student. Throughout the year, she saw that he sought more challenging work.

"He's not afraid of a challenge," she said. "He never gives up. ... He's an example."

Now that he has finished high school, Vaughn plans to study radiologic technology at Gwinnett Technical College. He said he hopes to become a radiology technologist and work in a local community hospital.