The newspaper and talk radio have been abuzz this week about a young man who was allowed to run for Homecoming Queen by a St. Louis area high school …. and won! He stated from the beginning he chose to do it as a prank and needless to say, his “crowning” has created quite a stir with students and parents alike. The girls who were nominated for queen feel that they’ve been cheated out of a chance that every little girl dreams of.
To be a princess… Queen for a day. And while every little girl has dreamt of that possibility at one time or another in her life, very few will ever have the chance to be. At least in the view of the public eye. In reality, Homecoming and prom royalty elections are most often popularity contests with cheerleaders and sport heroes making up the ballots. Very rarely if ever does that change, nor has it over the years. I’m not writing about this in an effort to debate the issues, but this story that has flooded the airwaves this week set me to remembering. It’s a story worth telling.
My daughter A has been out of high school now for 7 years and is currently working on her masters at LSU. In high school she was a captain of the swim team, President of the Student Council, member of the Choir and Madrigal groups, top of her class, named Outstanding Senior Woman, surrounding by friends and yet wasn’t considered one of the so-called “in-crowd”. One of those girls that everyone loved but sometimes got overlooked. And this young woman was (and is) a true beauty in every sense of the word…. on the outside, but most importantly, on the inside.
Every bit of her beauty shone through and touched the hearts of so many on one week in 1999.
A came flying through the door one day after school, breathlessly announcing that she’d been nominated for Homecoming Queen and rattled off the names of the others who’d been nominated as well. Only one name wasn’t familiar to me. Eric was a young man in the special ed classes who was disabled both physically (he walked with a bad limp) and developmentally. A was so upset because his name had been placed in nomination as a joke that she went to him and asked him to be her escort, putting aside HER hope to be escorted by one of the others. “Mom, he’s so excited about it and the only thing I care about right now is just making sure that he has the time of his life during Homecoming Week. I don’t care if I get it or not… I just want him to be ok through it all and not be embarrassed or ridiculed”.
Words can’t express how I felt at that moment!
And so we began the preparations for Spirit Week, each day being a different theme for the couples… favorite cartoon characters, famous couples, school color day etc. A came up with some appropriate ideas for those days that wouldn’t be potentially embarrassing to Eric and began to work with him, his special ed teacher and his mother on making sure that they had everything ready to go. Smurfs one day, Ozzie and Harriet the next, school colors galore…. and the best part? Every day she came home with a huge smile on her face telling me about all the fun that he was having and that she was having the best of times too! There was no laughter behind their backs and everything was going well.
And before we knew it, it was Friday…. Homecoming night…. football game and the announcement of the Queen (the King would be announced at the dance the following night)… and the end of the day assembly where all the candidates would be introduced formally, girls in formal dresses and the boys in shirts and ties. When I arrived at school, I was met by A looking more beautiful than I’d ever seen her look before. And there was Eric standing next to her in a black tux with the biggest smile on his face that I have EVER seen in my life, admitting that he was a little nervous and the shoes pinched but that was okay. The other candidates, boys and girls alike, were telling him how fabulous he looked… all the while that smile of his getting bigger. His mom told me that he’d insisted on a tux even though the other boys would be wearing more casual dress and how could she refuse?
So many thoughts and prayers going through our minds then… would he be ok…. would he trip…. would he freeze? 4 couples introduced, loud cheers and applause greeting them. And then it was A’s turn… the applause greeting her much louder by far…the listing of her accomplishments…almost Eric’s turn to come out and meet her. Before his name was even announced, the clapping and stomping began and as he appeared in the doorway with a rose in hand for A, the entire student body erupted into thunderous applause and cheering that literally drowned out everything. I have NEVER in my life heard such an ovation nor do I believe I ever will again until the day we see His face. The tears flowed unchecked as we watched this young man walk to meet A, no trace of a limp in his step and nothing but a confident smile on his face to a standing ovation which lasted far beyond after they took their places.
As the candidates made their way around the track in their convertibles, the response was the same. A huge crescendo of sound that began before A and Eric’s car even made it to the beginning of the crowd and swelling into a deafening roar by the time they reached the field. And moments later it was announced. A was named Homecoming Queen as a barrage of fireworks lit up the sky from the endzone. A magical fairytale moment for my little girl and next to her, a young man who was reveling in the moment for her and joyous that he’d been a part of it. A young woman who had made such an impact on the school and the people around her had been recognized as few often are.
Little did he know or understand at that time how much of an impact HE made on so many lives that week! With voting done separately instead of as couples, it wasn’t assured that Eric would even be in the running. Yet at the dance the following night when the King was announced…. his was the name that was announced. What may have started as a joke ended up as something that changed the perceptions and the hearts of a lot of young men and women in that school and taught all a lesson that will hopefully stay with them for a lifetime.
For there is goodness and worth in all people no matter what their capabilities or limitations. It is their heart that counts!