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Dawson Leypoldt Forges Forward to Find His Voice

Cover graphic for senior snapshot featuring Dawson Leypoldt

Thompson Valley High School senior Dawson Leypoldt and his family were told he would never be able to earn a regular high school diploma. Having been born with a rare degenerative neurological disease, Dawson struggled to keep up in school, and by third grade, he was moved into an ILC (Independent Learning Classroom) to get more intense help with reading and writing.

According to Dawson’s mother, Suzanne, Dawson was nonverbal at age three, and it was many years before he could express himself with speech. But once he transitioned into ILC, he began learning by listening and following along with audiobooks.

“Everything changed from having to read, and that’s when his comprehension changed,” Suzanne says, explaining that Dawson was suddenly able to understand reading material much better and found that he enjoyed books such as the Percy Jackson and Harry Potter series.

Dawson Leypoldt’s Discovery of Hands-On Learning and Path to Graduation

Dawson Leypoldt, with mother Suzanne, father, and two brothers on steel bridge

Now, nearly a decade later, Dawson is gearing up to graduate with his class and receive an academic diploma, as opposed to a certificate of completion, which is usually awarded to students in the ILC program. Dawson has worked hard to learn, and he has had many supportive teachers along the way who have found ways for him to be successful in school using non-traditional learning styles. 

Dawson has also discovered he has a love of – and talent for – welding, which he started four years ago. He says that he thinks welding is really fun, and he has constructed many different items, including a wagon and tables. 

“I like building stuff,” he says. “I like to keep my hands moving.” 

Dawson is very passionate about “hands-on classes” and hopes to one day run his family’s business, Leatherneck Steel, making custom signs and firepits. Ultimately, he hopes to own his own ranch and have lots of cattle. 

“It would be fun and a good learning experience,” he says. “It would be nice to live on 50 acres.”

But first, he plans to further his education and improve his craft. 

“I’m going to go to Front Range [Community College] and do the welding program over there and AutoCAD,” he says. 

Trying New Things and Overcoming Challenges

Dawson Leypoldt with other students and coach, appears in front of large F.F.A. sculpture at Future Farmers of America national competition

Dawson Leypoldt has spent his past two years of high school trying new activities, getting involved in things like the swim team and the theater program, where he has excelled at doing behind-the-scenes work on the lighting team. He also has a tiny Havanese poodle named Bella that he shows in 4-H (a youth organization described on their website as America’s largest youth development organization—empowering nearly six million young people with the skills to lead for a lifetime). 

Dawson has a strong connection to animals, especially Bella, who he describes as “hyper,” and horses. He has ridden horses through Guided Hope, a non-profit Christian-based organization that does a lot for military families. (Dawson’s dad was honorably discharged from the Marines.)

“Riding horses is kind of freeing and calming,” Dawson says, adding that he hopes to do more trail riding in the future and would especially love to ride horses in the snow.  

Focusing on tasks and activities is one of the strategies Dawson has used to learn when things become challenging for him. He has learned to use trial and error to find what works, advocate for himself, and talk to his teachers when he needs support. 

Through programs like theater, agriculture, and swimming, Dawson has found things he is passionate about. He was even elected Historian of the TVHS Future Farmers of America club for his senior year, meaning he is in charge of documenting the club’s activities in a scrapbook. The TVHS FFA recently went to a regional competition in Sterling. At the beginning of the year, the club traveled to Indianapolis for Nationals, and Dawson says he really enjoyed both events.

Despite all of the challenges Dawson has faced, he is proud to be earning his diploma this week, and he would tell anyone in a similar situation that they are capable of doing what he has done if they have the right determination. 

“Persevere,” he advises. “Just stick it through to the end.”

Portrait of a Graduate

Critical Thinker

Engages in problem-solving to overcome obstacles

Thompson Valley High School logo
Class of 2023