Rachel Handlin earned her Bachelor of Fine Arts degree in Photography & Media from the California Institute of the Arts.
Graduating from college is no easy feat. It takes a lot of time and effort and when we finally get the degree, all the blood, sweat, and tears that go into finally feels worth it. No one is prouder than our parents and Jay Handlin is no exception. He was so happy and proud of his daughter's achievement that he declared it loud to the world through Twitter.
He wrote: "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. Rachel has Down syndrome. I am officially the proudest father on the planet. Fight me." He even attached a stunning black-and-white picture of his daughter, shot by his wife.
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.— Jay Handlin (@jayhandlin) May 16, 2020
I am officially the proudest father on the planet.
Fight me. pic.twitter.com/t39gY58Gqf
The people of Twitter did not want to fight Handlin but were eager to congratulate Rachel on her feat. One user wrote: You have every reason to be proud! What a beautiful, talented, and creative daughter you have. Congratulations to you both. That is a wonderful accomplishment. Wishing your daughter a lifetime of happiness and success! Peter Hallinan tweeted: You deserve the title as she would not be what she is without your love, support, and encouragement. Congratulations to Rachel and wear the proudest Dad title well sir.
To Rachael and the father, you did a great job of not giving up hope! pic.twitter.com/W0LmHKKRpD— Richa Vyas, FPM (@Richasvyas) May 17, 2020
Congratulations Rachel! Every day we are more photographers with diversity, and this is great ✌️😀— NosWhyNot? (@NosWhyNot) May 16, 2020
Congratulations to Rachel and your family. I have a Rachel, too. pic.twitter.com/vAgfs3HSQM— Jawanda Mast (@Sassysutherngal) May 17, 2020
Speaking to PEOPLE, Handlin said, "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. 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." There are approximately 250 two and four-year colleges and universities that include students with intellectual disabilities in educational, independent living, and vocational/career programs, as per the National Down Syndrome Society.
He went on to say, "They’re the ones who worked unimaginably hard, going to school and then going home to go to school all over again. They’re the tiny few who were given the opportunities everybody deserves, who got the support they needed, and who labored relentlessly to prevail. For my daughter to do all that? Let along from a world-class creative institute like CalArts? 'Proud' doesn’t begin to describe it." Handlin has been proudly sharing Rachel's progress as well as her photographic talents on social media over the years. The father's Twitter bio even reads: "Fierce father and a disability/inclusion zealot."
Rachel shares her work and snippets from her personal life on her Instagram page. She also has a website dedicated to her work. Her eye for art is evident. Handlin says Rachel was "exposed to great art" from a very young age. Recalling the time they took her to the Musée d’Orsay, he said, "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." Years went by and Rachel picked a camera for the first time in ninth grade. And the rest, as they say, was history.
"It was clear to us that there was something unique about Rachel’s point of view," Handlin said of his daughter's shots. "The images were really striking. These were not the kinds of photos most people would take." President of CalArts, Ravi Rajan also praised Rachel and her talent: "We are fortunate to have Rachel as a member of our Community of Artists here at CalArts... CalArts has never used test scores or conventional measures of college readiness or assessment, like grades. We believe that ability is evenly distributed in the population and comes in many forms — it's an opportunity that isn’t. It’s not a perfect place, but it never stops trying to be better. Rachel makes us better."
Her achievement is now also serving as an inspiration for other children with Down syndrome to dream big and chase after it without hesitation.
I have a 16 year-old daughter with Down Syndrome. This made my night. I will share it with her in the morning. She wants to be an actress.— Todd Gilleland (@toddgilleland) May 17, 2020
Thank you very much. No fighting necessary :). Your daughter is beautiful. I wish her, and you, and all of the team advocating on her behalf strength and success! It’s a long road, but it’s definitely worth it.— Jay Handlin (@jayhandlin) May 17, 2020
Congratulations to your brilliant daughter! I hope my own little girl, who also has that extra chromosome, will be so successful. pic.twitter.com/pNEwCGoWsR— The Irish For 🐢 (@theirishfor) May 17, 2020
Way to go, Rachel! Here’s my bro Todd with @patrickcarney & their Akron FHS Hall of Fame portraits. Pat’s pretty cool but Todd‘s got a black belt in karate, won gold 🏊♂️ for the @specialolyUSA at the World Games in China, & has his own greeting card biz. Downs folks can DO 💪 pic.twitter.com/a89YaTZCez— Justin Eisinger (@JustinEisinger) May 17, 2020
I feel you - featured: my brother winning his school board’s award of excellence for treating people with respect and dignity. Couldn’t ask for anything more than a kid with a kind heart and a great sense of humour. pic.twitter.com/n70LytCIVM— Jasmine Attfield (@jattfield) May 17, 2020