The auditorium was still with silence for a moment before the crowd erupted with applause and a standing ovation. Many were still in tears after listening to Skylar Jones deliver the poem “Take my Hand” by Andrea Smith for her talent portion of Miss Amazing.
The poem Jones recited in 2017 gave insight into living with ADHD, which she has spent most her life with. That year, she was crowned South Dakota Jr. Teen Queen and won the title again the next year.
Jones, 19, is a first-year Augie Access student studying communication disorders and sign language interpreting. She was involved in Miss Amazing, a national pageant program for disabled girls and women, from 2016 to 2019. The pageant aims at raising self confidence in young women. South Dakota’s pageant is held on Augustana’s campus with the crowned winner continuing on to nationals.
“Once you get there, they treat you like you,” said Jones. “I got to be who I am. I learned to speak up and not hide my disability.”
She grew up with two younger siblings — Beth, 17, and Ty, 16. She was introduced to the Augie Access program while she and her mother were exploring post high school options. Augie Access is a program for intellectually or developmentally disabled students aged 18 to 26 with a desire to become fully employed after graduation.
“We were making the after school decision ‘what to do,’ and found the opportunities pretty limited, sadly,” said Jodi Wolfe, Jones’s mother.
Jones and her mother had already been introduced to Augustana through Miss Amazing, and after touring and completing the interview process, Jones was admitted into the program.
“She’s given so much to our program,” said Catherine Davis, Augie Access program coordinator. “She’s found people that are not as outgoing as she is and brought them out of their shell and made them feel comfortable and seen. She’s willing to find whatever their spark is.”
Jones started her fall semester with an introductory class into communication disorders taught by Karen Mahan, assistant professor and program director for communication disorders. Jones opened up while the class was covering ADHD by sharing personal experiences and giving insight. She also contributed to conversations regarding autism spectrum disorder, which her significant other has.
“She gave really good specific detailed information with regard to how having an attention deficit disorder has interfered with her ability to learn and participate,” Mahan said. “How many other students in the class maybe had an attention deficit disorder but weren’t volunteering that they did? Everything that she said was really relatable for all of the students in the class.”
Jones has also been involved in many programs and clubs including the Augie Access leadership club, Encompass Humanity, SKOL, Pearl Jam and Augie Green.
“She just wants to help people and be involved,” said Jessica Lamb, Augie Access program director. “She’s all about breaking peoples’ expectations of her.”
Sarah Nohr, Augie Access third year minoring in history, is the president of the Augie Access leadership club and friend of Jones. She described Jones as someone she can always talk to and be herself around.
“Skylar is the kind of person that loves to advocate for herself and others,” said Nohr. “She is a great spokesperson because she knows what to say and how to say it. I love that quality in her.”
Jones began gaining confidence in her ability to reach people as many people on campus expressed their positive regard for her.
“Everyone tells me how positive I am here on campus,” said Jones. “I have a friend that told me I would make a really good spokesperson. I kind of want to. I’ve been so passionate about it lately.”
Jones’s academic success contradicted the opinions of her high school teachers that told her college might not be obtainable for her. Mahan reported no difference in Jones’s work from any other student in class. Further discrediting that notion, Lamb and Mahan share the belief that Jones could be just as successful seeking a degree.
“I think it’s important for people to know that society places people into stereotypes, and we always view disability hand in hand with low expectations of people,” Lamb said. “When given the right supports and opportunity and the right frame of mind like Skylar has, you can do anything.”
After college, Jones hopes to live on her own near Sioux Falls or Brookings with a career in sign language interpreting and speech language pathology assistance.
Jones’s ambitions have continued developing while at Augustana. She has discovered an interest in communication disorders and reinforced her passion of advocating for mental illness. She plans to continue spreading confidence and awareness.
“I’ll always tell people with disabilities to speak up and speak out,” Jones said. “That’s my go-to. I live by that.”
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