UVic allows student with autism to attend convocation after online campaign for change

University of Victoria student Nathan Bodie has won a battle to attend convocation after having completed five years of supported studies in political science and social justice. 

Bodie, 32, has autism and attends classes with support from STEPS Forward: the B.C. Initiative for Inclusive Post-secondary Education, which helps people with developmental disabilities access post-secondary education. 

Like others in the program, Bodie received a certificate for completing his course work. 

But he said he learned in November that he couldn't attend a graduation ceremony because his courses don't count for credit — however, that has now changed. 

"It's tremendous," said Bodie. "It's gratification for the work I've done — the whole five years on campus. It's just great." 

Seven campuses in B.C. take part in the STEPS Forward program, all of which allow students to graduate with their peers, except, until now, UVic.

"UVic has been working with STEPS Forward since last autumn on a pathway of recognition for STEPS Forward students," said the university in a statement, emphasizing it worked towards finding a solution so the students could be recognized in time for spring convocation.

Thousands sign petition

Julia Templeman, a long-time friend of Bodie's, started an online petition, which attracted more than 4,000 signatures, to pressure the university to allow him to graduate. 

"It's so wonderful that he's getting recognized for all the work that he's done and he's really happy about it," says Templeman.

"I actually think I'm going to be able to go to his grad, which is really exciting."

At a meeting April 7, the UVic senate approved a proposal to include students who receive support from STEPS Forward in graduation ceremonies. 

The university said the change was a result of its ongoing work with STEPS Forward since last fall. 

A few days after the senate meeting, Bodie met with UVic's adviser to the provost on diversity, Grace Wong Sneddon, to confirm his attendance in a June convocation. 

Sneddon says Bodie will be the first STEPS Forward-supported student to attend convocation.

Currently there are five students enrolled at UVic who take part in the initiative.

"They will cross the stage with the group of students that they attended most of those classes with," Sneddon said.

Student's mother thrilled

Nathan's mother, Nancy Bodie, is thrilled about the policy change. 

She said it's a victory for her son, who has talked about doing advocacy work. 

"This is just so confidence-building for him and the fact that he has a voice that he was able to use for change," Nancy Bodie said.

Bodie says he has a job in health sciences lined up after he graduates.