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Student with disabilities pledges allegiance in ceremony

MT. VERNON (WSIL) — The Koekemoer family has called Mount Vernon home since 2007 after previously living in South Africa and Germany.

Earlier this year the family completed all the necessary steps to become U.S. citizens and traveled to St. Louis to attend a citizenship ceremony.

But their youngest son, Jaco, who has lived with cerebral palsy his entire life was unable to attend because the building was not wheelchair accessible.

"It’s something worth celebrating and just having something small and private is not okay," said Megan Clodi, director of special education at Mount Vernon Township High School. "He deserves more."

Like any other high school student, Jaco loves to watch movies like King Kong and Wonder Woman, listen to music, and spend time with his family.

Jaco also has a strong sense of patriotism, something that was instilled in him by his older brother, Johan Jr., who joined the military after graduating Mt. Vernon Township High School in 2011.

Thursday, the school hosted a citizenship ceremony in its theater to give Jaco the celebration that he missed. Dozens attended, including Mayor John Lewis.

Retired judge Terry Gamber read the oath of allegiance to Jaco, as the teen listened and answered ‘yes’ to the oath with his machine.

His parents Johan Sr. and Riana say they are thankful for the school going out of its way to put on a ceremony that Jaco will remember for the rest of his life.

"They accept us," Riana Koekemoer said. "We’re foreigners and they accept us. So it’s very special for us."

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