HomeAchievementsDefying Expectations: An Extraordinary Path to Graduation

Defying Expectations: An Extraordinary Path to Graduation

In an inspiring example of triumph over adversity, 25-year-old Ian Cheung, ’23, has defied all expectations by not only attending college but excelling academically at Southern. Born with autism and global developmental delay, Ian’s journey to earning a bachelor of science in computer science with a stellar 3.9 GPA is a testament to resilience, determination, and familial support. He has completed his coursework for his degree and will walk in Commencement next May.

His parents, Kei-Hoi and Candy Cheung, both SCSU alumni, refused to accept the limitations set by medical professionals and embarked on a mission to change the trajectory of their son’s life. Candy, a certified public accountant who put her career on hold, played an integral role in Ian’s educational journey, attending classes with him, providing communication support, and recording sessions for later review.

“In the beginning, I didn’t know how I could get involved with [Ian] in the classroom, when I should step in or when I should lay back,” said Candy, who has attended hundreds of hours of classes with her son after one of his professors invited her to sit in. “When I look back at his college journey, I will always thank Southern because all the best things happened there.”

Candy’s unwavering dedication began in Ian’s early years, addressing physical delays and later, commuting long hours for speech therapy. Ian, who now walks independently and speaks with impressive clarity, credits his mother for shepherding him through the challenges.

Kei-Hoi, a professor at Yale University, expresses wonder at witnessing Ian earn the same degree he completed in 1987 and even taking a class with Kei-Hoi’s former computer science professor, Dr. Winnie Yu. Ian’s journey, marked by steady progress, Kei-Hoi says, is a testament to taking life “one day at a time, one alphabet, one word, one task at a time.”

Faculty members at Southern are in awe of Ian’s remarkable determination and strong grasp of coursework in the classroom, which also extends to helping his fellow students in their lessons and assignments.

When asked what has kept him motivated, Ian says simply: “I like how [computers] can be used to help many people. I feel grateful to have helped people.”

“Working with Ian is inspiring and has opened my eyes in terms of his great learning potential,” said Yu. “He is an organized and clear thinker. Although his speech is affected by his disabilities, with time and patience, Ian’s response and feedback is always coherent and thoughtful.”

Watch the full story on WTNH: “Young man with autism defies odds, completes coursework to graduate from SCSU” (By Sarah Cody, Dec. 21, 2023).

Read Ian’s story in the New Haven Register, “SCSU student defies developmental disabilities to earn 3.9 GPA” (By Elizabeth L.T. Moore, Dec. 28, 2023); and in the Hartford Courant, A CT student with ‘challenges that he has to overcome’ earned a 3.9 GPA. He’s graduating from college in 2024 (By Ed Stannard, Dec. 31, 2023).


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