MOUNT VERNON — When two Mount Vernon High School students alighted from their convertibles and joined the homecoming royalty on the football field last Friday, the crowd stood, clapping.
The crowd wasn’t giving a standing ovation to the entire homecoming court. Instead, the wild applause was for the new duke and duchess, Edgar Conejo and Amanda Walton.
Conejo and Walton are students in the high school’s Life Skills class, a program for students with disabilities.
“I expected it to be big, but not that big,” said Sam Park, a senior with the leadership class and Associated Student Body president.
For the first time, the student leadership class came up with the idea to have staff nominate students from the Life Skills program as royalty.
Park said the standing ovation the students received rendered him “just speechless.”
“That (the standing ovation) gave me insight into how caring the student body was about this,” he said.
Hopefully, he said, the idea will catch on at other high schools and continue at Mount Vernon High School.
Walton wore a blue dress to homecoming, and Conejo wore a purple satin vest under his tuxedo, with a matching lavender tie that he’d picked out himself.
During rehearsals, Conejo was “just shrugging the tuxedo, all smiling,” Park said.
“It’s been pretty amazing,” said Amy Bysegger, who teaches the Life Skills class.
After parading into the scene in convertibles, Walton was pushed onto the track in her wheelchair by her father. She was excited, Bysegger said, while Conejo was serious during the halftime presentation, because he knew “… that it was a big honor.”
Conejo received a medal as duke and Walton a crown. Both students kept their keepsakes safe at home while in class Thursday. Conejo’s special homecoming haircut had already grown out. He’d gotten stripes shaved into his close-cropped hair, and proudly pointed them out in a photograph of the half-time event.
Since homecoming, students say hello to Conejo when they’re walking past, Bysegger said.
“I was just … blown away,” she said about the homecoming presentation, pausing to collect herself. “It’s a huge honor for any kid to be nominated for homecoming.”
Many of the students in her class are not in regular classes much, though they do eat lunch with the rest of the student body. Since homecoming, it seems everyone knows the duke and the duchess.
“Just to be included,” Bysegger said. “Everybody just wants to be included and accepted for who they are.”