Jeffrey Victor, who is living with autism, received a diploma from Hardaway High School, and he got there with some help from a special friend.
Jeffrey and his Labradoodle Sarah have been inseparable for the past three years. She made history by joining him in celebrating a milestone, receiving his high school diploma.
He says, "It's fun to be graduating."
Jeffrey looks on the positive side of life, but it hasn't always been easy. Being autistic in high school brought on bullies and trouble learning. With help from Sarah and some nurturing teachers, however, he's graduating from Hardaway with a smile.
His mother Reggie Liparoto says, "It's a summation of all his hard work because although he has a disability, he wakes up every day and wants to take on the world and learn more about it, and he never stopped from that."
"Jeffrey is intelligent," says his teacher Lynn Brannon. "He is compassionate. Sometimes the other students may not be."
Three years ago Sarah was given to Jeffrey through the American Disabilities Act. With her superior training Sarah helps Jeffrey stay calm, which is an important aspect of autistic life, and she gets him where he needs to go. Liparoto says it's hard for people to understand their relationship since Jeffrey is neither blind nor in a wheelchair.
"People couldn't wrap their minds around how she served him," says Liparoto, "so there was some discrimination there, but everybody came together at the table and tried to make it work, for Jeffrey's sake."
Karen Floyd, Jeffrey's case manager, says, "I've grown extremely close to her as a service animal, and my eyes have opened up to service animals for students with a disability, and I have learned a lot more about the Autism Spectrum Disorders than just what you read out of a book."
Both teachers agree they will miss Jeffrey's optimism at Hardaway, but they plan to continue working with him in the coming years. Brannon says, "Jeffrey is always happy...and he's been an absolute pleasure to work for."
Jeffrey says college is in his future plans. Of course, Sarah will tag along no matter what.
Hardaway had one of the largest graduating classes in Muscogee County with 354 students.
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