In Canby, Oregon, 18-year-old student Janelle Bailey, who also has Down syndrome, was chosen as one of Canby High School's five senior homecoming princesses. The Oregonian's Tom Quinn reported last month that student leaders led a word-of-mouth campaign to elect Janelle to the court. "Classmates say her election as princess recognizes Bailey's many contributions to the high school, notably her endlessly cheery attitude and sociability," Quinn wrote. Luke Sommer, Canby's student body president, lobbied for several years to get Bailey chosen as a princess. "Every girl wants to be on the court, and she's deserving . . . genuine, nice, caring." Claire Gaeng, head of Canby's special-needs program, added: "Janelle is obviously a person with special needs, but this senior class is just a wonderful group of students. They are kind and considerate people who have always been friendly to her."
In Kirkland, Wash., 19-year-old Matt Louden went to the Juanita High School homecoming dance with not one date -- but with eight. He's a jock who can bench-press 230 pounds, a lip-sync fanatic, and a special-needs student with Down syndrome whose indefatigable optimism has charmed students since grade school. Seattle Times reporter Cara Solomon wrote that Matt's mom tried to get him to play in the backyard as a toddler, convinced it would be safer.
But "(h)e insisted on the front yard, where the rest of the kids were playing. 'And he's been trying to teach me that ever since. It's like, 'Mom, life's not in the back yard. Life's in the front yard.' "
The high school stories of Shannon, Poco, Tim, Janelle, Matt and their caring classmates offer desperately needed uplift in a popular culture that wallows in degradation as infotainment. Wouldn't it be nice if once, just once, TV programmers focused on the better angels of our nature instead of the bullies and beasts?
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