She was dressed in her Hawaiian style flowered dress; her hair pulled back to one side with a big red hibiscus flower placed above her ear. She glowed! She did not know what to expect, only that this would be a special night. She had gotten the invitation at school, delivered to her Severely Handicapped class. It was a "message in a bottle." As she pulled out the parchment paper scroll and dusted of the sand particles from the miniature bottle it read:
YOU ARE CORDIALLY INVITED BY THE SPECIAL EDUCATION DEPT.
HAWAIIAN LUAU PROM
MAY 27, 2007
12123 TAYTON PLACE
She had watched her sister two years ago when she had attended her prom and now it was her night to become a "princess."
Her Mom and Dad drove her to the setting, where her classmates and teachers from school as well as the other three high schools in the area were arriving with eager anticipation as well. Some were very shy, while others were full of energy as usual. She entered past the waving palm fronds hanging from the trees to hear the beat of Hawaiian drums and ukuleles. She was greeted at the door by one of her teachers who gave her a flower lei and kissed her on each cheek. "Aloha!” MaryJo, she said. She began to see many of her classmates as well as other kids she had known through the years through other programs like "Special Olympics."
Everyone was encouraged to get their picture taken against a scenic background of a Hawaiian skyline and ocean. But the music is what was drawing her to the center of the auditorium where many of her friends were already gathering. The DJ was spinning all their favorite tunes and any shyness or reservations about being different, did not matter here.
Some parents who chose to stay, remained in the background, giving their almost adult children room to be themselves amongst their peers, but most parents left. The food was spread out on table with tropical decorations. Pineapple juice and marinated pork and rice and sweet and sour meatballs and Hawaiian sweet bread lined the tables. There had even been some hula dancers earlier in their grass skirts performing the traditional dances. However, MaryJo was not going to Hula tonight! She loved hip-hop and she would be one of the star dancers on the floor that night. The smiles and unfiltered exuberance of happiness and energy dominated the room.
MaryJo was seventeen and Down syndrome, but tonight she was a Hawaiian princess dancing the night away under the tropical moon. Another student, Eric, was autistic and normally for him, socially inept; but the music and fellowship of this magical night would not allow him to leave the dance floor without dancing with every pretty girl at the Luau Prom.
Tonight there were no disabilities. Tonight, there were no handicaps. Tonight, there were no frustrations. Tonight, there was only happiness and a wish that this night would never end.
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