Student with Rett syndrome named class valedictorian at Jacksonville's Foundation Academy

Local student with disorder gets graduation surprise

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — Molly Paris was diagnosed with Rett syndrome at the age of 3, but she doesn’t let her condition hold her back.

On Thursday, the now 18-year-old will graduate from the Foundation Academy as valedictorian of her senior class.

Rett syndrome is a rare, non-inherited genetic disorder that can lead to severe impairments such as the inability to speak and walk.

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Molly uses a text-to-speech app to communicate and doesn’t have purposeful use of her hands.

She will give her valedictory speech using her text-to-speech app on her tablet device.

Her mother, Robin Paris, said the Foundation Academy was the only school that would allow her in an inclusive classroom with an aide.

“Everyone else shut her down. She’s been there since kindergarten and here she is as their valedictorian. She’s earned it,” Paris said.

Growing up, Molly developed a passion for computer science and robotics, but her high school didn’t have a robust program. She fostered a relationship with the Microsoft Store in the St. Johns Town Center. They helped her tinker with technology and take on science projects.

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In 2018, Molly designed her own wheelchair, so she could dance with friends at prom.

Molly said she sees technology as a way to empower people to do the unimaginable.

“I want young people with any challenges to not let prejudices stop them and to not let other people speak for them,” Molly said using the text-to-voice app. “To use their own voice no matter what that voice may be.”

Molly earned a scholarship to attend Florida State College at Jacksonville in the fall. Her goal is to study science and engineering at the University of Central Florida.