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Dear KSL, I wanted to share a letter I wrote to my son's principal. If you have the time or ability to publicly recognize a school that is doing things right, I would appreciate it. Mr Peery is the principal at Salem Hills High School in Salem Utah and Andy is my Son. He is a Senior at Salem Hills and has autism:
Dear Mr. Peery, last Friday, Andy's teacher called to make sure that we knew Andy was planning on going to Prom and has been for several weeks. As you know, Andy has autism. Though he talks to us quite often, he failed to mention that he planned to go to the one of the most significant dances in high school. I guess he thought that everyone was attending and his parents should know. I am sure he did not understand the weeks of preparation that goes into such a night. We thought of canceling but could not entertain the idea of letting his date know, that has been in his classes since junior high, that she would not be able to go. Instead, we scrambled to find a tux, arrange for transportation, find a chaperone, buy a corsage, find a photographer, and find a restaurant--in less than 24 hours. Family and friends came together to provide a tux that fit with formal shoes at no cost. My wife called a friend from work to make a corsage to match the dress on short notice. We then began to arrange for the grandmother of Andy's date and us, to chaperone and drive the couple. While my wife was making frantic preparations, she confided the story to her coworker, Pam Wilson. Pam than said her son was going to the same prom Saturday night. After a quick phone call, Pam told my wife that her son Nate invited Andy and his date to join their party to pictures, promenade, and the dance. I was truly touched but was hesitant to upset their plans. Nate insisted and Pam told us that it was his idea. We met Nate and his friends and told them that Andy had a pocket full of money, but probably did not know what to do with it. He assured us that he would take care of everything. We exchanged phone numbers and sent them on their way. After the dance, I met Nate and his friends at the reception center in Pleasant Grove. I never have seen Andy so happy. I saw a new side to my son because he was truly enjoying himself. I thanked Nate and his date for making the night possible. They assured me that it was nothing. It may have been a small sacrifice in their eyes, but for me, it was much more than nothing. Nate and his friends are my heroes. Upon reflection of the night, I asked myself what would motivate high school kids to share one of the most special nights with a pair kids with special needs? I don't doubt that Nate's parents taught him well. I have met them and they are good people. I don't want to understate the character of Nate and his friends either. But I believe there is something more that influenced their automatic decision to include my son with autism. The culture at Salem Hills High School is a culture of inclusion and celebration of all the student body; even those with special needs. This is evident in at the Pals ball; a dance organized by the student council and peer tutors for the special needs class. This is evident when Andy's peer tutor Kenny shows up to Andy's house to take him to hang out, just for fun. This is evident in your school's choice of prom royalty. This is evident in the cheer squad's decision to include and train cheerleaders with special needs. This is evident in how the student council goes to great efforts to make all students feel welcome. I found this to be evident when I was at the Onion Days Parade and I attended with my family. The float with Salem Hills Cheerleaders stopped in the route to shout and wave hello to Andy. Shortly after, the float with the Skyhawk Football Team did the same thing. Andy and his older brother Matthew have attended Salem Hills and I have been impressed how quickly both have been accepted. Mr. Peery (Agent P.), thank you for being a friend to Andy. Thank you for your example and leadership that have created this culture of caring for all those that attend Salem Hills. Why would Nate do this for Andy? Because Nate is a Skyhawk and Skyhawk's take care of their own. Thank you students of Salem Hills High School for all you do and for all you are. You will always be heroes to me.
Sincerely, Matt Hiatt