PROVO — Like many college students, Jonny Peay, of Orem, was elated when his acceptance letter to Utah State University landed in his mailbox.
"I felt so happy," Peay said.
For Peay, 22, getting into USU was an intricate process of meetings, interviewing and then spending a day on campus to see if he fit with the campus and if the campus fit for him.
Peay is unique and full of faith and hope. He loves people and he enjoys serving them, according to his mother, Lisa Sage Peay.
In some parts of the United States and certainly the world, Peay wouldn't be allowed in college, in fact, he wouldn't exist. The son of Mark and Lisa Peay, he was born with Down syndrome.
Among all the things Lisa Peay was told her son wouldn't be able to do is read, write, speak, grow in knowledge, retain it, and much more.
"Every single expert, they all told me he was on the very low end of the learning scale," she said. "I ignored them."
Through long days and years of the Peays fighting the system and helping their son, the reward paid off. Jonny Peay can read, speak and write, not only in English but also in Tongan.
His skin may be Caucasian, but his soul and heart is with his Tongan brothers and sisters.
As a young Mormon boy, Peay met lots of Tongan friends that invited him to go to church with them. When he was baptized at age 9, he was invited to attend the Tongan LDS ward in Orem.
Lisa Peay said there was a sense of camaraderie and acceptance with him that endeared the family to worship with their Polynesian friends.
As he has progressed in his faith, Peay has taken on responsibilities like any other normal Mormon male. He even served a two-year service mission with the community food bank, and worked once a week with the full-time missionaries proselyting and teaching. He is currently an assistant Scoutmaster, and is also an assistant to the Elder's Quorum presidency in his ward.
Lisa Peay said her son expects to be treated just like other kids and she had to step up to a school principal to make sure it happened.
"I had to fight the principal to suspend him," she said. "You don't moon the gym class and not get suspended."
For Peay to have gone through high school and receive a diploma instead of a certificate of completion like other special needs kids is remarkable.
He is currently attending part-time classes at Utah Valley University where he is a member of the "Act Risk No More" acting troupe. He is carrying a 3.94 GPA.
When he is not at school, one of Peay's favorite pastimes is doing CrossFit training, an intensified exercise program. His favorite exercises are weight training that has helped build his arm and leg muscles.
He loves walking his goldendoodle dog named Charlie, he raises 12 chickens, likes the zombies in Michael Jackson's "Thriller," acting and theater, and he wants to raise people's awareness of the possibilities for those with Down syndrome.
"He has a great love for people with disorders," his mother said. "He completely forgives and keeps on walking. He has been bullied and shamed. He knows what that is, but he forgives."
March 21 was World Down Syndrome Day. Jonny Peay hopes people will see what can happen if they love and help each other. He is an example.
This fall, Jonny will move on as a full-time student to USU. It is the fulfillment of one of Lisa and Mark Peay's dreams for their son.
It will be the first time Peay will be on his own, living in a dormitory with a roommate and going to classes every day on campus. He will be responsible for himself.
When he completes the two-year program, Peay says he wants to work in the music business.
"I want to work with my cousin in San Diego," he said. "He is a professional DJ."2 comments on this story
Before that he will be going through extensive counseling and training in the Aggies Elevated program.
"He will learn about career determination, being a self-advocate, and do remedial English," said Lisa Peay. "The first semester is critical. He may learn he wants another career."
For Peay, he wants to learn, make friends and serve his community.
"I want to be a good example to my brothers and sisters," he said. "I want to tell them to keep going, don't quit, and have faith.