Woman with intellectual disability treated at Vanderbilt as a baby accepted to university’s next steps program

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Posted at 8:43 AM, May 27, 2021
and last updated 2021-05-27 13:51:43-04

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WTVF) — "No" is a word we all encounter at some point in our life when trying to accomplish a dream and we all react differently.

Some throw in the towel, while others continue to push forward. Courtnie Taylor is a perfect example of this.

Recently, Courtnie achieved a major milestone in her life. She graduated high school while dealing with her intellectual disability.

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Courtnie received her diploma by working hard and a lot of sacrifice from her mom, Samaria Leach.

“Having child with a disability is very hard, even being a typical child in school is very hard. I had to push my daughter. It helped pushed me,” Courtnie’s mom Samaria Leach said.

Courtnie was 2-months-old she was diagnosed with Williams Syndrome; a rare genetic disorder.

“It’s a cardiovascular disease and it’s characterized by different facial features. Along with that she has different things wrong with her too. Her aorta stenosis is narrow, she has scoliosis, and development delay,” Samaria explained.

Raising Courtnie and her brother wasn’t a walk in the park for this single mom.

“I wanted to give up so many times, but I had a little birdie in my ear telling me to keep pushing. That’s what I had to tell Courtnie to keep pushing. It was very hard,” Samaria said.

She pushed through with a lot of help from Courtnie’s doctors at Vanderbilt and teachers at Susan Gray School on the campus of Vanderbilt University.

Samaria also got a lot of support just by looking at her daughter’s smile.

“She had this bubbly personality. Even with his long scar going up her stomach, even with everything she's been through. It was like ‘wow okay!’ Courtnie was always smiling since she was a baby,” Samaria said.

Courtnie’s smile was such a force to be reckoned with she became a varsity cheerleader.

Courtnie has pushed hard for her dreams to become a reality. Her next dream is to go to college, and she was recently accepted into the Next Steps program at Vanderbilt University.

It’s the first four-year, inclusive program in Tennessee for students with intellectual disabilities.

“I like animals and they love me. I want to be a veterinarian,” Courtnie Taylor said.

The university means a lot to the mother and daughter duo.

Especially since, Courtnie’s education started on the university’s campus at Susan Gray.

“Even with the financial assistance. I still cannot afford to go to Vanderbilt. Now it’s left to mom to get out here and find scholarships and to wash cars. I have to do what I need to do to help her dream come true. Going to a school she started at that. She never thought she could get in but got in at a place where the doctors who took care of her, go to school for work, you know, that’s a dream,” Samaria said.

If it’s one thing Samaria has taught Courtnie is to never give up no matter your health circumstances.

“Medically, Courtnie has a brain tumor that we just found out about 2 years ago. We don’t know if she will be here tomorrow. So, that’s why Courtnie tries to live life. She’s the life of the party,” Samaria said.

No one knows what the future holds, but there’s two things for sure.

Courtnie’s smile will always be a light in the darkness, and she was born to be a Commodore.

“Anchor down,” Courtnie screams.

Samaria has started a GoFundMe to help pay for Courtnie’s college education.