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Viral Video Of College Acceptance Letter Brings Joy To B-N Family And Beyond

Kurt Kinley, center, celebrates his acceptance to Heartland's HALO program with his dad Dave and sister Karen.
Kurt Kinley, center, celebrates his acceptance to Heartland's HALO program with his dad Dave and sister Karen.

A quick thumb-scroll through social media on any given day will show you plenty of hatred, cynicism, and hopelessness.

Kurt Kinley breaks through all that. The 20-year-old from Normal went viral over the Fourth of July weekend with a video on Twitter showing him excitedly opening up his admission letter from Heartland Community College. Kurt, who has Down syndrome, was accepted into a two-year program at Heartland that he will start in the fall.

“I’m in! Yes!” Kurt shouts in his driveway before breaking down in tears.

Like many young people with intellectual or developmental disabilities, college was no guarantee for Kurt. But the Unit 5 grad chased it, in part, because of his older brother Glenn and sister Kelsey, who both went off to school.

“He’s always wanted to be like his older brother and sister,” said his father, Dave. “They’ve been incredible role models.”

Glenn, who now lives in Kansas and posted Kurt’s video on Twitter, says college can be an easy thing to take for granted.

“I always assumed I would go to college. My parents did, too,” Glenn said. “I don’t think Kurt ever assumed he would go to college, so it’s a pretty big deal for him. He was pretty fired up about it.”

Kurt’s success is maybe not that surprising given his family, which leans heavily on their Christian faith. Kurt was adopted and had extensive medical issues as a kid. But the Kinleys learned quickly not to count out Kurt.

“There were things where I’d say, ‘Kurt won’t do this’ or ‘Kurt won’t do that.’ And eventually he would,” said his mother Michele, a special education teacher. “Our expectations for him have always been high, as far as behavior expectations and social expectations. And I think that’s helped him. He’s not allowed to go out and act like a goofball someplace because that’s what he feels like.”

Glenn said that is what put college within reach.

“(My parents) never assumed he couldn’t do anything,” said Glenn. “I think with kids with special needs, unfortunately a lot of times it’s assumed they won’t or can’t do certain things. And that assumption was thrown out the window.”

Kurt will enroll this fall in the Heartland Academy for Learning Opportunities (HALO) program that recently celebrated 10 years in operation. It’s geared at students between 18 and 28 with intellectual and/or developmental disabilities and other learning challenges. Courses cover computers and math, cooking and money skills, and other aspects of independent living.

It probably won’t take long for Kurt to make new friends at Heartland.

His family says he’s a social butterfly. He works two jobs—at a Bloomington-Normal bakery and a trampoline park—and is a huge Blackhawks fan.

“He has brought so much joy to our family, more than you could ever imagine,” Glenn said. “That video is just 1%, or less than that, of what he is every day.”

That video, filmed a couple weeks ago, already has 197,000 views. Glenn said some of the most touching feedback has been from a parent of someone with special needs who now felt encouraged about them going to college, too.

As for Kurt, the reaction was 100% genuine.

“He talks a lot,” Glenn said. “It was one of those rare moments when he was speechless.”

Ryan Denham is the digital content director for WGLT.