The lights dimmed in the Northwestern High School cafeteria minutes before midnight. The young man, hours from his 19th birthday, had danced dozens of dances. But now the votes were in. Prom queen and king were going to be announced. The high school juniors and seniors, hundreds of them decked out in fancy dresses and tuxedos, rushed to circle the microphone and the spotlight shining down from the ceiling. The students themselves had voted for queen and king.
“We all rushed over to see who was going to win,” said a senior named Grayson Boatright. “I knew who I voted for. But there wasn’t any campaign or plan. People just voted for who they thought deserved it.”
The name Min-Young Kim was called out as queen. Super student, athlete, all-state band, friend to all: A great choice by all accounts. Everybody cheered.
Then there was prom king. The name came out in a call that nobody at the school will ever forget.
There was stomping and screams of joy. There was clapping. An ovation. The circle of students opened up, and through that ring into the center, the spotlight to be with the queen, walked senior Kevin “Kev” Rauppius.
“It was fun and very exciting,” Kevin said.
A royal understatement.
A special needs student with autism, a guy who finished last so many times in the cross-country meets – but he sure did finish every time, despite physical and mental challenges – Kevin Rauppius was the prom king of Northwestern High School.
“It made me feel warm inside,” Kevin said, “in my heart.”
A heart inside which Kevin has made room for a whole school.
The gym floor bounced with the thunder of the applause for Kevin. The students had chosen this kid not because they were asked to, or as some kind of plan. But because they wanted to choose him. Kevin loved them for four years, unconditionally, and those hundreds of students gave that love back with the vote of a lifetime for a special needs kid who faces autism and a harder life every day with a smile and hugs for everybody.
Kevin is set to attend the “Think College” in the fall at Winthrop, for special needs students with intellectual disabilities, after graduating next month.
Grayson, Kevin’s best friend since fourth grade and track teammate, said the student body knew that something special just happened.
“Some people wanted to leave early, but we all wanted to see who won, and when it was Kev it was just like an explosion,” Grayson said. “Kev is just the most caring person at Northwestern. He made lot of people happy here.”
The circle tightened and Kevin formally asked his queen to dance the spotlight dance.
“It was an honor to be the king with queen Min-Young Kim,” said Kevin.
Always the gentleman, this king.
Kevin sent a picture and message to his sister, Nicole, a 10th grader not at the prom. When Kevin had spoken at his cross-country banquet, he told the people assembled that his favorite memory was not him running or finishing races, but, “when my sister started running with her team, I was so proud.”
“I was so happy I screamed,” Nicole said of her brother winning prom king. “Loud.”
Kevin’s parents, Judy and Rick, received a text message so late at night to call about something at the prom. The first thought was an accident, a fall, something. Late-night messages are almost always a crisis.
“But when I find out he won prom king, and these kids he goes to school with voted for him, it was just the greatest feeling,” said Judy Rauppius.
The students at Northwestern, said Judy Rauppius, won something, too.
“It showed they love and respect Kevin,” she said.
After Kevin won prom king, the prom was not over. Kevin went to the prom stag – no date. After winning king, he was the most eligible guy in the gym. He was the only one wearing a crown, too. There were more dances and he danced them all. The custodian finally turned on all the gym lights. The prom was over. Kevin Rauppius was the last one out the door. He wore his crown as he walked out.
“I am the king, you know,” he said.