Students Rally Around Prom King Nominee

By  | 

Jordan Gunderson walks the halls of Damonte Ranch High with the kind of self-assurance any big man on campus should have.

He's the guy everyone seems to know and everyone seems to know him.

So, it should be little surprise to see his smiling face among those in the running for this year's Prom King. But that honor is a big step for this 18 year old and the other students at this school.

Jordan is developmentally disabled, a special needs student.

"I see Jordan as a normal kid," says his longtime friend Drew Smith. "I talk to him as a normal kid, He talks to me like a normal kid. I don't treat him any different than anyone else."

The connection between the autistic kid and the star running back dates back to the 6th grade and it runs deep.

On senior day for the football team, Drew took his friend with him out onto the field. It was a big day in Jordan's life.

Drew has written an essay he hopes to read at graduation telling how this friendship has changed his life.

It's a friendship he expects to last.

"I'll never forget him. I'm trying to play my football here in Reno, so he can watch my games. I've talked with his parents and they say he'll miss me. It's really hard."

He's not alone.

Ella Hamrick has known Jordan since the 8th grade and though she's also a candidate for Prom Queen, she's spent much of this past school year promoting his candidacy on Facebook.

"He deserves it more than anyone," she says. "He's just super friendly, says Hi to everyone in the hallway, makes friends with everyone in his classes. His positivity just relays to everyone. He's had a big impact on my life. A lot of my happiness comes from seeing him happy. I think that goes for a lot of people."

Perhaps the most remarkable thing about all this is how unremarkable it all seems.

Not so long ago, kids like Jordan would spend their school years sequestered away by themselves. That's changed and, it seems, everyone is the better for it.

"He's very friendly, very outgoing and the other students are very receptive to that," says Community Lifeskills Teacher Sean Stanton who's worked with Jordan for six years.

"They love Jordan. They're quickly realizing that these kids do fit in with the rest of us and they are as capable as anyone in the school."

And so, when Jordan stands on that stage Saturday night, win or lose, he will be marking how far he and the rest of us have come in that process together.

He'll also be just another high school student on the brink of adulthood, excited about his senior prom.

What's the nominee thinking about all of this?

"Party tomorrow night," he says.