Cullman’s Jackson Ray earns scholarship to Auburn EAGLES program

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Cullman’s Jackson Ray signs a scholarship to join Auburn University’s EAGLES program Tuesday at Cullman High School. Top row L-R: David Hannah, Mark Stephens, Kim Hall, Stacie Owen, Seth Andrews. Bottom row L-R: Brannon Ray, Jackson Ray, Michelle Ray. (Nick Griffin/The Cullman Tribune)

CULLMAN, Ala. – Tuesday was a special day for many people at Cullman High School but none more so than Jackson Ray. Ray was joined by friends, family, teachers, coaches and more in Cullman High School’s Tillman Hall Tuesday afternoon to sign a scholarship to join Auburn University’s EAGLES program. The Education to Accomplish Growth in Life Experiences for Success, or EAGLES, is a comprehensive transition program (CTP) for students with intellectual disabilities. The program provides a post-secondary education opportunity for students with intellectual disabilities to engage in a two or four-year campus experience to help students achieve their employment and independent living goals upon successful completion of the program.

Assistant Principal Mark Stephens got the ceremony underway, highlighting some of Jackson’s notable achievements and contributions to his school in his four years at CHS.

“Jackson has been on the football team since 10th grade. You’ve probably seen him on the sideline during warmups and on the field getting the guys ready to go. Jackson also served on this year’s homecoming court and prom court. He actually had to catch a flight back from Auburn to get here in time for homecoming. At the beginning of the year, Jackson also gave a fiery speech about wearing your mask and socially distancing because he wanted to get this school year in. He didn’t want to go back home, he wanted to be here with his classmates on campus. Around the house, you might find Jackson rocking out to Luke Bryan and he enjoys hanging out with the crew at Desperation so he’s very involved with his church. He enjoys video gaming and talking with friends on the phone. Currently, Jackson is working on his academic modules through Auburn University.”

A Cullman High and Auburn University alum was on-hand for the ceremony as well. Seth Andrews has been a Graduate Teaching Assistant within the EAGLES program since August and is excited to welcome Jackson into the program.

“I’m very excited as an Auburn alum and also as a Cullman alum to be here to welcome Jackson to the awesome EAGLES program we have at Auburn University. The EAGLES program is a post-secondary program for students with intellectual disabilities to come to Auburn and understand what it means to be an Auburn student with the goal of working towards independence,” Andrews said. “We have five pillars and those are employment, academics, independent living, personal social skills and health and wellness. So, when Jackson gets to the plains this fall, he’s going to be going to Auburn classes, EAGLES specific classes, he’ll be working with peer mentors we have that volunteer with our students, he’ll be going to personal training sessions, work sites and really learning a lot of different skills that will help him become an independent young adult after our program.

Andrews broke down the extensive selection process that Jackson and his family had to complete to earn a spot within the program. Jackson was one of just six applicants to be accepted this year.

“We’re excited to have Jackson joining us. He went through a very rigorous interview process. I think we had around 34 applicants this year that went to a national committee and they selected 12 students to get an in-person interview back in October,” Andrews said. “So, 12 students including Jackson came down to the University in October and went through a two-day process with several different interviews, his parents went through interviews, met with professors and staff members to see what our program was about, and Jackson was one of six students accepted this year. It’s definitely a big accomplishment and everyone should be proud of him and we’re very excited to have him. War Eagle.”

“Today is the culmination of a lot of hard work and dedication from Jackson, his parents, family, friends and educators. This is something to really be excited about,” Stephens said. Jackson has defied the odds, not only overcoming a cancer diagnosis in 2012 but being involved as a student and graduating with his class.”

Jackson has been a fun and inspiring presence on campus at Cullman High School for years and now he’ll be taking his talents to the loveliest village on the plains.

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