One Month Later: TigerLIFE Family Reflects on Participating in Commencement

MEMPHIS, Tenn. – It’s been one month since 2,858 University of Memphis students walked the stage at FedExForum for Spring 2024 Commencement. Commencement is a special time for anyone receiving their respective degree, but for nine graduates in particular the ceremony was more than a milestone in their own individual journeys but also the program they’re a part of. These nine students are recent graduates of the TigerLIFE program, UofM’s inclusive higher education program for students aged 18-29 with intellectual and developmental disabilities.

TigerLIFE students at 2024 commencement

“I was very nervous but excited to be able to participate,” said Jordyn Swift, one of the nine graduates.


This was only the second time in the decade-long history of TigerLIFE – which stands for Tigers Learning Independence, Fostering Employment & Education – that students were allowed to participate in the university’s commencement ceremony. Traditionally, the program’s commencement has been held in the Maxine A. Smith University Center Theatre on campus, but in recent years, parents, faculty and staff have pushed to have the students sit amongst the other graduates. For Swift’s mother Aundrea Gordon, the experience was almost as exciting. FedExForum organizers gave TigerLIFE parents two suites to watch the ceremony in comfort.


“Watching my daughter walk across the stage with the other students was a dream come true for both of us,” Gordon said. “The section for TigerLIFE was everything – comfortable, great location, very convenient. We could see everything.”


“I was very excited when I arrived to see all my friends and the other students that would be graduating. Having my family there see me was very exciting,” said Swift.


Each TigerLIFE student completes a 60-hour program that results in a completion award in Career and Community Studies. 10 students completed the TigerLIFE program this year, but nine participated in the ceremony. The program’s purpose is to help its students find employment and live meaningful lives after graduating. Right now, Swift – who has autism – is searching for that first job and thanks TigerLIFE for the preparation it gave her.


“The program meant that I would get a chance to go to ‘college’ and have the on-campus experience,” said Swift. “TigerLIFE gives you independence, teaches you to speak up for yourself.”


“TigerLIFE means everything to me,” added Gordon. “After my daughter was diagnosed with autism, I did not think a program like TigerLIFE would be available for her. It taught her how to advocate for herself.”


TigerLIFE is a part of the University of Memphis Institute on Disability (UMID), which is within the College of Education. The program is a federally recognized Comprehensive Transition Program (CTP), as defined by the Higer Education Opportunity Act of 2008.