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SEATTLE — Devon Adelman fell in love with the ocean when she was 2 years old.

“We actually grew up on a beach,” Devon said, describing her childhood years in Florida. “I would just go into the ocean, just jump in.”

She started out with an adoration for dolphins. Now she is 18 and currently captivated by the octopus, which she likes for its “alienlike” features.

Devon has spent her summer volunteering at the Seattle Aquarium after being the only senior with Down syndrome at Nathan Hale High School last year. It makes sense she will study marine biology at Highline College in Des Moines this fall.

But before she starts, she and her mother will head to the White House for Michelle Obama’s “Reach Higher: Beating the Odds” summit on July 23. She’ll be one of two students representing the Global Down Syndrome Foundation at the event.

Down syndrome, which causes delay in speech and learning, impacts about 1 in every 691 live births, according to a 2011 estimate from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Devon’s journey toward a college transition program was one that required correcting preconceived notions about the disorder. To her and her family, the White House summit is another chance to share what people with Down syndrome can accomplish if given the chance.

“I think it’s a huge opportunity, and it’s great that the White House is considering this part in their whole diversity lineup,” said Sue Adelman, Devon’s mother. “I think it just shows great things for the future.”

The Beating the Odds event is part of Obama’s initiative to have all students continue their education past high school. About 150 students — who, like Devon, overcame certain struggles to reach college — were selected nationwide to attend.

The students will share their particular stories with other guests and hear from speakers who attended last year. Of course, a visit from the first lady also is expected.

“Well, I know Michelle Obama,” Devon said, smiling.

The Global Down Syndrome Foundation, based in Denver, was established in 2008 and participates in a variety of advocacy events. David Charmatz, senior vice president for the foundation, said he met with Devon at the Annual National Down Syndrome Congress convention in Phoenix in June.

“She’s definitely a role model for the community,” Charmatz said.

This isn’t Devon’s first advocacy trip to Washington, D.C.

She and her parents participated in the Buddy Walk on Washington in April, speaking with legislators about education opportunities and research funding for those with Down syndrome. She also gave a keynote speech at the United Nations in New York City on March 20, the same weekend of World Down Syndrome Day.

Devon’s father, Sean Adelman, said she speaks not just for inclusion of those with Down syndrome, but for increased opportunities for anyone with a different ability or socioeconomic status.

“Our feeling is it’s not just about Down syndrome — it’s just about being a better person and supporting people with different abilities,” Sean said.

Her parents also are involved in advocacy efforts. Sean writes books featuring protagonists with Down syndrome, and Sue is a parent fellow for the University of Washington’s Center for Human Development and Disability.

“I think a lot of our impetus is just knowing what Devon can do and knowing what people are capable of, and just feeling like we need to pay it forward,” Sean said. “Unless somebody says something, then nobody is going to know.”

The Reach Higher summit is a culmination of a busy high-school experience for Devon. At Nathan Hale, she was a member of the varsity cheer team and was the goalie for the unified soccer team, which includes both disabled and non-disabled players.

While the experience at Nathan Hale was positive, Devon’s parents said integrating students with Down syndrome at an earlier age can help dispel preconceived notions about those disorders. To them, it’s something that Seattle still needs to improve.

The Adelmans lived in Michigan before moving to Seattle. “Seattle really doesn’t have a big inclusion piece,” Sue said. “Devon was fully included through eighth grade in Michigan. So we are big believers in that type of education.”

Though the summit is in D.C., one of Devon’s latest feats happened right here in Seattle.

She and her father helped carry the torch for the Special Olympics World Games as it made its way across the city during the July Fourth weekend. Her teammates on the unified soccer team cheered her on as she hoisted the torch in front of Safeco Field.

“I think a lot of our impetus is just knowing what Devon can do and knowing what people are capable of,” Sean said, “and just feeling like we need to pay it forward.”

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©2015 The Seattle Times

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