But it’s still something that brings tears to my eyes and inspires me when I’m feeling low.

The public schools I attended from 6th grade to 12th grade had amazing special education programs for children with various handicaps. Children with Cerebral Palsy, Down syndrome, Autism, and more participated in “mainstream” programs that placed them along side the rest of us in classes like gym, Biology, History, and more. As a result, I grew up with a fairly mature slice of the adolescent population. I never heard anyone with a disability get teased or made fun of. Popular girls and guys joked with the special ed kids in the halls, walked with them to and from class, and volunteered as aides in their homerooms.

I was very close friends with a darling girl named Vanessa who had Downs. She made us a “Best Friends Forever” wallet card that I still have in my keepsake box. I was proud to see Jeff, another boy with Downs working at a local big box store a few years after we graduated. He would ride the bus and ask me if my friend Amy was willing to marry him yet.

Three years after I graduated from Murray High School, my little sister was a Senior and a finalist for Homecoming Queen. Among the 10 Homecoming Queen finalists were two girls with disabilities. Shellie Eyre had Down syndrome, April Perschon suffered from physical and mentail disabilities due to a brain hemorrhage she had in her childhood. Since special education students usually stay for a few extra years, I too knew Shellie when I attended Murray High.

The finalists were escorted out to the gym floor by their fathers or dates. When Shellie and April walked out, the crowd rose to its feet, cheering and clapping.

Shellie’s parents tried to prepare her for the possibility of not winning, but it was unnecessary. Murray High School crowned an adorable little plump girl with Down syndrome their 1997 Homecoming Queen that night. And you know what? There wasn’t a dry eye in the audience.

Kids can be so cruel. The movies and media that show the popular kids regularly mocking and ostracizing the “losers” isn’t that far off the mark. But stories like this do my soul good. Kids can be mature, responsible, caring human beings. I’ll never forget Shellie’s little face, beaming beneath her sparkly crown. April’s too, as she was crowned an attendant.

Whenever I feel like all of the terrible things that happen in the world seem to be winning, I just open this old sheet of newspaper and read the whole story again. Hope in humanity makes everything feel better.