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Strom Thurmond High School's Brayden Thompson Chooses USC Aiken’s Pacer LIFE

Johnston, SC – Surrounded on Tuesday afternoon (March 7) by his family, teachers, classmates and friends, in a setting reserved for big news, Brayden Thompson had an important announcement to make. With cameras flashing around him and a bright grin on his face, Brayden placed a white USC Aiken hat on his head, signifying his commitment to the new Pacer LIFE program for special needs students. 

“I’m moving on,” stated Brayden. “I’m excited.”

Brayden is one of 19 high school students from the CSRA and beyond to be accepted into Pacer LIFE’s inaugural cohort, and both he and his parents could not be happier that he will be a Pacer this fall.

“I received an email from Brayden’s teacher, Ms. (Georgina) Matthews, explaining there was a new program at USC Aiken and they were still working out some of the specifics, but she would keep me in the loop,” commented Lea Ann Thompson, Brayden’s mother. “Then we went and toured the campus.”

Pacer LIFE offers special needs students the opportunity to continue their education after high school by attending college classes, learning life skills and job skills with the goal of obtaining competitive employment in the workforce. There are five such programs in South Carolina, but none are closer than Clemson University in the Upstate or the University of South Carolina in Columbia. USC Aiken’s Pacer LIFE removes the barrier of distance for some families, Brayden’s included.

“It was an opportunity we didn’t think would be possible just because of the distance,” stated Lea Ann Thompson. “It’s good that this program is in Aiken because it’s only thirty minutes away, so if I need to be there, I can be there.”

“It’s a great opportunity and something we couldn’t provide for him,” added Devin Thompson, Brayden’s father. “He’s been with us all his life and for him to be able to have this type of experience, without his parents, it’s priceless.”


In the Pacer LIFE program, LIFE serves as an acronym for Learning Is For Everyone. 

Brayden’s transition is exactly the type of opportunity Pacer LIFE and the program’s director, Dr. Melissa Martin, hoped to provide to students from the Edgefield County School District when she presented it in a meeting held in November 2022. 

“It’s a wonderful privilege to be able to accept nineteen students into our first ever cohort of PacerLIFE,” stated Dr. Martin. “It really is quite an honor for our campus, which truly believes all students can attend college, to send out those notifications.”

“It’s extremely rewarding for students from Edgefield County to have this opportunity to continue their education with such a wonderful partner as USC Aiken,” commented Edgefield County School District (ECSD) Director of the Office of Exceptional Children, Jerrilyn Johnson. “We’re elated to witness this day and celebrate with Brayden and his family.”


Miesha Kingcannon, ECSD’s Transition Specialist, says moments like these are important reminders and evidence of what can be accomplished through dedicated planning and seamless collaboration. 

“This day is proof of the truth that when we set a plan for our students and follow through with great execution and family participation, our students can move forward and experience post-secondary success,” stated Kingcannon. 

She also praised Brayden, who needed 24 class credits and 360 hours of work experience to qualify for the Pacer LIFE program, for his consistent work ethic and self advocacy.

“Brayden was always willing to do whatever was asked of him and he was very respectful,” added Kingcannon. “He showed up on time, he knew his job, and he never wasted any time. He was always a big self-advocate.”

Brayden is scheduled to graduate from the Pacer LIFE program as part of the Class of 2025 and Kingcannnon says she and others are already planning to be in attendance that day.

“We cannot wait until graduation,” Kingcannon tells Brayden. “When you hear screaming in the corner, that will be us.” 


Move-in Day (August 18) for the students of the Pacer LIFE program is now just 162 days away and Brayden cannot wait. The college dorm rooms on USC Aiken’s campus were one of his biggest reasons for wanting to be a Pacer.

When asked what item will be among the most important things he will need to take with him to college, Brayden gives an answer any new college student might provide.

“My phone,” he says with a smile.

ECSD Public Information