Thursday, March 11, 2010

Louisiana teen with Down syndrome elected middle school Sweetheart Queen

From The Daily Comet:

THIBODAUX, La. — When Hope Dempster (pictured) heard the teacher call her name, she kept her calm and remained all business.

“She just stood up, and she went straight to the outgoing queen,” recalls Andrea Landry, the Sixth Ward Middle School teacher announcing the names of this year's school royalty.

Sixth Ward students had elected Hope, an eighth-grader with Down syndrome, as the 2010 Sweetheart Queen. Down syndrome is a genetic disorder that hampers physical and mental development.

The Sweetheart Court is a tradition at the school, said Landry, the adult sponsor of the student club that organizes a dance held in conjunction with the honor.

The Sweetheart king and queen are chosen from the Sweetheart Court by student vote and crowned at the school's Sweetheart Dance, which was held this year on Feb. 27.

Hope kept her poise because she was confident she would win, said her mother Annette Dempster.

The 15-year-old campaigned for the title, handing out stickers the day before the dance encouraging students to vote for her, explained Annette — before Hope interrupted her.

“It's me: I did it,” Hope said. “I'm queen.”

And she looked every bit the part during her one-night reign. Hope wore a white and pink dress, with matching white gloves and a pearl necklace and bracelet. She picked the outfit herself while searching with her mother online. After receiving the crown, she looked absolutely regal.

Hope rattled off a list of boys with whom she danced. She also led her father, C.J., through a few ballroom-dance moves.

Hope enjoys many of the same things as other girls. Miley Cyrus is one of her favorite artists, and the High School Musical movies top her list of favorite films. She also loves to play on the computer, outshining her parents' skill with the machines.

“She puts her dad to shame,” Annette said.

Hope is the youngest of Annette and C.J.'s children, who also include Benji, 27, Callie, 24, and 17-year-old Tiffani, a senior at Thibodaux High.

Landry, who served as Hope's speech pathologist and seventh-grade English teacher, said watching her former student develop has been a treasure.

“It's wonderful to see how she's blossomed, and she's come from so little to see how she fits in so well,” Landry said.

Though Annette said Hope has come a long way from a “rough” first dance a few years ago, she said her daughter is not the only one who's changed.

“She's grown, and so have the students (at Sixth Ward),” Annette said. “You have to credit her, but you also have to credit the school. They fostered the environment.”