TAYLORSVILLE — Michael Conrad, a junior at Taylorsville High School, was excited to get an invitation to the homecoming dance from a cheerleader, but saddened to later learn it was a fake — a prank, placed by a bully. Word of the incident quickly spread. Conrad’s former debate teacher, Jenn Palomino, wanted to do something.
"I just thought it was a terrible incident,” Palomino said. “I didn’t know that I could do anything to turn it around, to be honest.”
That changed, however, when she reached out to a close friend, former Miss Lehi, Caitlin Thomas.
“I couldn’t imagine how him and his family felt,” Thomas said. “Finding out that it wasn’t real.”
Thomas reached out to another friend, current Miss Greater Salt Lake, Dexonna Talbot.
“The second I heard about this, I knew I wanted to do something,” Talbot said. “I automatically broke down into tears, because just thinking about the fact that someone would go out of their way to make someone else feel bad is so heartbreaking to me.”
Talbot walked into one of Conrad’s classes Tuesday. Thomas and Palomino were both there too, cell phone cameras rolling.
“Right in the middle of a test, and all of a sudden this real cute girl comes up and asks you to homecoming,” Palomino said. “I think he was real taken back in the video, but he seemed excited, gave a real positive, ‘sure.'”
Videos of the invitation on Twitter were viewed thousands of times, and shared by hundreds. Suddenly, Conrad had a real date to homecoming.
“I think it was pretty nice. It was very thoughtful,” Conrad said.
You may not notice right away from meeting Michael Conrad, but he has autism. He’s high-functioning, but some kids aren’t mature enough to accept people with those differences.
“They think that we are dumb, we’re weak, we’re not smart,” Conrad explained. “I’m here to prove them wrong.”
Talbot says she plans to spend both the afternoon and evening with Conrad, going to an arcade, before arriving at the dance. After word of the date spread, one local business even donated a limo rental for the occasion.
“I’ve never been to a dance in a limo!” Talbot exclaimed. “I wanted to make sure that this was a homecoming and experience that he remembers in a positive way.”
“We just hope that he feels valued, and he feels important,” Thomas added.
Conrad doesn’t know who left the fake note. He tore it up and threw it away. He does, however, plan to keep the colorful poster Talbot made to ask him to the dance.
"You can’t pin me down,” Conrad said. “I’ll always get back up.”
Talbot is attending the University of Utah, pursuing a degree in ballet, along with a master’s degree in special education; something she says she was inspired to do after her family helped care for an uncle who had special needs.