Cory Suzuki has become an advocate for students like him who have autism.
Student with autism graduates as valedictorian
July 15, 2019
Cory Suzuki has never shied away from hard work. “We’ve added AP courses over the past four years at Gardena [High] to try and increase the rigor that we provide our kids here,” said Assistant Principal Didiana Ramirez. “And Cory has stepped up to the challenge. He’s not afraid to sign up for AP Calc, to sign up for AP English Language, and AP English Lit, and AP U.S. History — he’s not afraid to rise to the challenge.” Cory knows all about challenges. At the age of 4, doctors diagnosed him with autism. “I was bullied a lot when I was a kid,” Cory said. “And sometimes I would cry in my room. And I’d be like, ‘Hey, I can’t really deal with this anymore.’ I was shocked when people saw me as different. But as I grew up, I was thinking to myself, ‘This is something that is me, that makes me unique, that differentiates me from others, and I just have to accept it.” Cory not only accepted his autism, he embraced it and became an advocate for his peers who are also on the spectrum. “For me, autism, it’s kind of like a benefit for me because it’s something that not everyone knows about and they can’t even see it physically,” he said. “Like when I talk to some people, they don’t say that, ‘Hey, this kid is autistic.’ Autism is not a disability and a lot of people see it as a difficulty. And it’s something that needs to be taken care of.” That sense of selflessness is rare for any high school senior, and educators at Gardena High took notice. “He is an articulate young man who is not afraid to speak about his story,” Ramirez said. “He’s not afraid to speak about the things that he’s passionate about like bullying and special education.” About one in 59 children are diagnosed with autism. Nearly one-third of children with autism have an intellectual disability. That made Cory’s academic success all the more impressive. “I think he exemplifies everything that Gardena stands for and wants to do for their students,” Gardena High teacher Kristine Denton said. “And that is meeting every challenge. Taking all the toughest courses. And then excelling in those courses.” The hard work paid off as Cory earned the distinction of class valedictorian at Gardena High. And so, on June 5, dressed in his white cap and gown, the young man who was non-verbal until the age of 5 was up in front of his peers delivering the commencement address. “Life has its respective hills and valleys,” Cory said in his speech. “And that’s totally OK. Life is supposed to be messy. We as fallible humans make mistakes all the time. Yet we are all significant in many aspects. Why is that you may ask? It is because we are able to overcome those challenges and predicaments that come our way.” In the fall, Cory will attend California State University, Long Beach, where he plans to pursue a degree in mathematics. But he also wants to continue to advocate for other people with autism who may not be able to advocate for themselves. “Autism is not something that characterizes people. It’s something that people should embrace, because people with autism can achieve a lot of things and not that many people do realize that,” he said. “I’m glad I have it because it’s something that I can use as a strength in life.”

© 2019 Association of California School Administrators