Thursday, May 27, 2010

Delaware high school selects student with CP as prom queen

From The News Journal in Delaware:

Sussex Technical High School senior Julie Batt (pictured) didn't plan to go to her prom earlier this month.

Batt, who has cerebral palsy, didn't buy a dress or a ticket.

What the 17-year-old didn't know was she was one of the top picks for prom queen -- among about 35 girls nominated.

When student activities coordinator Pattiva Cathell realized a potential queen might not even be in the room to accept the crown, she had to tell Batt about being nominated just to get her to go.

But Batt had no dress and no ticket.

A couple days before the big event, a student gave Batt a turquoise prom dress with spaghetti straps. Another student, who decided not to go to the prom dinner, gave Batt a ticket.

When fellow senior Brian Donahue escorted Batt to the prom May 15 at the Delaware State Fairgrounds in Harrington, all the 17-year-old knew was that many friends told her they had nominated her.

"A lot of people wanted me to win," Batt said. "I took that as a compliment."

Cathell knew Batt had little to worry about, because the student whom friends describe as sociable and outgoing won about 85 percent of the votes. But few others knew the outcome until the big moment near the end of the evening.

"I'm going to start crying just thinking about it," said Cathell, who placed the queen's crown on Batt's head. "I didn't think I was going to get as emotional as I did, but it was because of her reaction. I knew our kids were just genuinely hoping for her.

"There was a dramatic pause right before they announced Julie," Cathell said, tears tumbling down her cheeks as she recounted the moment. "When they called her name, she was gasping. It was hard for her to smile, because she was fighting back the tears and her surprise. I kept kissing her because my motherly instincts came in."

Donahue, who had given Batt flowers and walked alongside her on the red carpet during the Hollywood-themed prom, said he got choked up when Batt was picked from among five girls in the court.

"When she won, I was practically in tears, because I've known her since she was little," he said. "It meant a lot to her. I thought it was awesome."

Following the announcement, prom king Julius Young (pictured), 18, danced the first dance with Batt as the royal couple, swaying her back and forth in her wheelchair.

"She looked emotional when I first took her hands, because she was so happy," he said. "I was just overwhelmed. I loved the moment. I loved everything about the prom. It was a true memory."

Batt recalled thinking it was nice to be nominated, but she really did not believe the night would belong to her.

"I thought it was cool to be selected out of all those girls to be prom queen," she said.

Batt, who wants to be a psychologist and will start classes this fall at Winthrop University in Rock Hill, S.C., said she believes the seniors picked her to be queen partly because she is so matter-of-fact about having cerebral palsy, a lifelong neurological condition that affects communication between the brain and the muscles.
"I never had a problem fitting in," she said. "And my nonchalance about my disability really showed that I don't think of it as a delay, I think of it as a consequence that I can deal with."

Batt's mother, Katie Megee, a physical therapist at Easter Seals in Georgetown who chauffeured her to and from the prom, agrees that her daughter downplays her disability.

"I think it's just a part of who she is, like her hair color or her eye color," Megee said. "It really doesn't limit her in any way. She really doesn't pay much attention to it."

Batt volunteers at her mom's Easter Seals office, tutors students with special needs at Georgetown's Ennis School in the Indian River School District and serves as an assistant Girl Scout leader of Troop 760, where younger sister Maxine Megee, 9, is a member.

"I work with more severe disabilities than me, so I like to think of it as showing them that even people with severe disabilities can fit in," she said.

Megee said her daughter was clutching a trophy when she got into the car following the prom. She had made her daughter promise to text her as soon as she learned the news, and she filled her in on all the details during the ride home.

"I was thrilled for her," Megee said. "I think it was nice to see that the other kids at the school had such a high regard for her. I just think that beyond even just accepting her, they wanted something special for her."