College hopeful receives letter of his dreams

SPARTANBUG, S.C. -- All over the country, at this time of year, young men and women are heading off to college for the first time. It's a safe bet none of them is filled with more excitement and anticipation than this freshman.

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Rion Holcombe
CBS News
For the past 20 years, Danny Holcombe and his wife, Sue, have kept a secret from their son. They have never told Rion, who has Down syndrome, that there are some things in life he will never be able to do.

Which is why, when some of Rion's friends left for college last year, he just figured he would go too. His parents say he even picked the college.

"Then he just started telling people he was going to go to Clemson," says Sue.

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Danny and Sue Holcombe
CBS News
When asked if they braced him for disappointment, Danny says, "We kept telling him, yeah, but he continued."

Although the Holcombes didn't know it at the time, Rion's dream wasn't entirely out of the question. Clemson University does have a program for people with intellectual disabilities, but it's highly competitive. Every year more than one hundred people apply for less than 10 openings.

Still, since Rion wasn't getting the hint, they let him apply. The letter from admissions arrived a few months ago. And after sneaking a peak, Danny and Sue recorded a home video of him opening his acceptance letter with much excitement.

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Rion Holcombe opens his acceptance letter.
"We are just waiting to see how he will react when it hits him," says Danny. "And he says, 'I got accepted.' And I think those words mean an awful lot ... It was just total, absolute joy."

When asked if he is still as happy as he was that day, Rion responds, "Oh, yeah."

Last weekend, Rion packed-up for Clemson. The two-year program will teach him job skills and how to live independently, which I'm sure his mother especially will appreciate.

Rion says it will be very challenging, but he is up for it.

Twenty years ago there was no room on a college campus for someone like Rion. But today, more than 200 universities across the country offer some kind of program like this.

And Rion, for one, couldn't be more grateful for the opportunity. He took instantly to college life.

But his parents, on the other hand, feel like they are losing their baby.

Sue says, "I've always been able to control what he hears, what he sees, who he spends time with..."

Danny agrees saying, "It's not going to be easy."

Proof that, although Down syndrome can be overcome, empty nest syndrome remains incurable.

  • Steve Hartman

    Steve Hartman has been a CBS News correspondent since 1998, having served as a part-time correspondent for the previous two years.

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