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Finding a Pathway to Success

Valedictorian Will Dreier '24 stands with President Tracy Y. Espy and Board Chair Rick D'Avino at Commencement.

“Radically possible” by being “powerfully you” means something different for everyone at Mitchell College. For Will Dreier ’24—who completed the Thames at Mitchell College program before earning his bachelor’s degree in communication— it was being named class valedictorian, achieving the highest grade point average in his class.

“Obviously my greatest achievement from my years at Mitchell would be the honor of being named valedictorian at my graduation, which I know I made ‘radically possible’ just by being my powerful, autistic, creative young self!” he said.

Throughout his years on campus, Will was open about his autism and what it means to him. He participated in a national podcast about belonging hosted at Mitchell College by award-winning journalist Julio Ricardo Varela, and most recently was featured on Mitchell’s social platforms for Autism Awareness Month.

During the introduction to the valedictorian award during Commencement, Will knew right away that the speaker was talking about him.

“When I heard the speaker share the quote ‘I would like people to know that autism causes me to see the world…,’ I knew I recognized those words anywhere! I got so excited that I leapt up out of my seat when everyone started cheering for me!”

valedictorian finds pathway to success, Mitchell College

Journey Begins at Thames

Will began his Mitchell journey in Fall 2019 when he enrolled in Thames at Mitchell College, a one-year college transition program. He said his biggest struggles coming in were asking too many questions in class and losing patience with instructors who did not answer in a way that he felt at the time was “satisfactory.”

“I sometimes ended up dominating the class unintentionally. Luckily, I had discussions about this with my advisors and the instructors themselves, which helped me become more aware of these challenges. Moving forward I was able to make an effort to improve and control myself, and I have slowly gotten better over time.”

Will’s social and academic skills also grew while he was a student at Thames.

“It was challenging at first, but after having more talks about it with my advisors, the Thames program helped me grow socially by teaching me the best way to handle peer pressure, which is just to try and avoid and ignore those who were causing me stress. Academically, I learned that I should be trying to figure out a problem on my own first, before impatiently stressing about it with my instructors.”

Growth Continues at Mitchell

Will’s growth socially continued in and out of the classroom as he pursued his bachelor’s degree at Mitchell College, expanding his exposure to many different types of students and also to different social situations. His favorite spots are on upper campus, including The Cove (student center), The Red Barn, and Michael’s Dairy, which he said “gave me more opportunity to try and socialize with my peers and even staff.”

“Understanding social cues is one of my biggest challenges as someone who struggles with autism. Whenever I feel like I am being singled out, or someone won’t talk to me, I constantly bug them to try to find out why. Luckily, I was able to overcome this issue by seeking guidance about it privately from a responsible peer or staff member,” he added.

While earning his degree Will explored and shared his creative talents with the community through Radio Mitchell and performing arts. He hosted the “Mitchell in a Minute” radio show, interviewing faculty and staff and playing a one-minute trivia game with them, highlighting their uniqueness. He also participated in the 2022 Spring Musical “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum.”

“I played the pimp—I am ashamed to tell you—Marcus Lycus, who apparently ‘stole the show’! I have done acting for many years, and my favorite part of being on stage is bringing humor to the audience. I did face challenges behind the scenes, however, with misunderstanding social cues of the cast and director, which is common for me as someone with autism.”

With a career goal of creating original animated stories about diversity and inclusion, Will landed on studying communication at Mitchell College. He completed a micro-internship with an animator who helped him design the characters and backgrounds for an animated series pitch and found the experience beneficial in his career pursuits.

One Step Closer to Career Goal

He plans to pursue a second bachelor’s degree in animation at Lesley University in Fall 2024 to take the next step in preparing him for a career as an animator.

“Creating an original series all starts with my animated series pitch, which is based on my own life and the neighborhood kids I grew up with. If all my work is successful, perhaps my biggest goal would be to create a nonprofit animation studio for people who are both physically and mentally diverse, and partner with other companies and organizations such as Sesame Workshop, DC Comics, or even Mitchell College!”

He is grateful for the foundation that he laid at Mitchell.

“Mitchell College—with its fun, friendly, and beautiful setting—helped me find a sense of purpose as someone who is mentally diverse by creating a community where I feel like I belong. I now feel more committed than ever to dealing with conflicts, balancing my work and social schedule, and even helping to make a positive change in people’s lives and the world!”