EAST HANOVER, NJ — A handful of students with disabilities from Livingston’s CPNJ Horizon High School were among more than 100 students from 11 schools that recently visited Novartis Pharmaceuticals Corporation (NPC) for National Disability Mentoring Day—a day of career exploration for students with special needs.

The annual event, held at the company’s East Hanover campus, helped these students recognize that they could each have a role as part of a future workforce. According to NPC, the event was also intended to inspire the students to think about possible future careers for themselves.

“Disability Mentoring Day is an opportunity for students to interact with colleges, universities and potential employers who welcome and nurture people with different skills and talents,” said Caryn Parlavecchio, US Country Human Resources Head, NPC. “They hear from adults who have pursued their goals and found success. It is a day to encourage these students to have the courage to dream big.”

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Throughout the day, students engaged in interactive career sessions, including a career fair with companies that hire people with disabilities and area colleges and universities with strong inclusion practices. Students also heard from a panel of people with disabilities who have gained success in their careers or personal lives despite their challenges.

“Everyone here is brave,” one student said. “Being here today, listening to people at the college and career fair—we took a big step.”

Keynote speaker Karen Gaffney, President of the Karen Gaffney Foundation and an advocate for full inclusion in families, schools, communities and the workplace for people with developmental disabilities, addressed and encouraged the students.

“When you are tempted to say, ‘No way, I’ll never make it. It takes too much work, too much discipline,’ remember: yes, it does take those things but you can do it,” she said. “Have the courage to dream big. Make the most of what you have been given. Then, call attention to what you have achieved.”

National Disability Mentoring Day is sponsored nationally by the American Association of People with Disabilities.