Friday, September 19, 2008

Reason #729 Why I Love My Job

Most days, I really love my job. I get to interact with some great kids and get the feeling that maybe, just maybe I might be making a difference in their lives. Of course, there are days when my job is really frustrating, when you get the feeling that what you're trying to do has absolutely no meaning or value for these kids. There are the days when you look out and just can see the grim future that is in store for these kids. But the good days outweigh the bad, which is why I stay.

Today was one of the good days because today was a day that reminded me how inherently good and decent many of these kids are.

Next week is Homecoming week. One of the traditions of our Homecoming here is that the royalty (King, Queen, and Attendants) are announced at an assembly on the Friday before the week starts. That way, the royalty rules over the whole week. It's also at this assembly that there's a fashion show to demonstrate the different dress-up days and various events throughout the course of the next week are announced. This year, two of my Drama Club kids were nominated for junior class attendant, but other than that, I didn't pay much attention to the list of nominees when the kids voted in my class.

As the announcements started, there was the inevitable "awwwwwwing" when this cute little sophomore couple was announced class attendants. One of my Drama Club girls was junior class runner-up. The junior class male attendant was this kind of nerdy kid with red hair -- ginger power!! And then came the big moment -- the announcement of King and Queen. Here, they have both senior class attendants, runners-up, and then King and Queen. (Which I've always thought was kind of lame, but I also understand it's a way to get more kids involved.) There were the shocked gasps when half of the couple everyone thought would be King and Queen (the boy half) was named runner-up without his girlfriend. There were the shocked gasps when the half of ANOTHER couple everyone assumed would get voted attendants together (the boy half again) was named class attendant without his girlfriend. When the Queen was announced, it was the female half of the couple everyone assumed would be King and Queen. So the tension built . . . who would be her King when her boyfriend was already standing up there beside another girl?

And then the teacher in charge of announcements called the name, "Kevin Johnson."

I guess at this point, I should probably tell you who Kevin Johnson is. Kevin is, obviously, a senior at our school. He is extremely popular, beloved by just about everyone (teachers and students alike), probably has more school spirit in his little finger than the rest of the student body combined. When he walks down the hall, he greets everyone with a smile and a wave. He is diligent and kind and respectful.

Kevin Johnson is autistic.

And he is our Homecoming King.

When Kevin's name was announced, the entire gym erupted with cheers like I've never heard before. It was deafening. The love and pride that those 500+ kids felt for Kevin was earthshattering. Because that's the important thing to note here. Kevin was not nominated as a joke and he was not voted King as a joke. He was nominated and voted for because the kids genuinely like him and genuinely wanted him to be their king. I don't know that I've ever seen a happier human being as Kevin bounded down out of the bleachers to join his queen. I could feel myself welling up and fought it, not wanting the kids to see me cry. And then I looked across the gym to where my principal was sitting, wiping tears from his own eyes.

Just when you think the future is doomed in the hands of today's kids, they redeem themselves with a moment of pure beauty and give Kevin Johnson what will probably be one of the highlights of his life.

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