by Marc and Julie Anderson
TOPEKA — Amanda Young is the first student with Down syndrome to attend this city’s only Catholic high school — Hayden — in its more than 100-year history.
That fact is not lost on those closest to Young, including her paraprofessional Mickey Arnold.
Arnold has been working with the high school senior since Young was in the second grade at Most Pure Heart of Mary Grade School.
At the time, Young was also that school’s first student with Down syndrome.
“She’s a pioneer in Topeka,” said Arnold.
“Her parents (Mark and Terry) are good advocates for her,” he added. “But she’s a pretty good advocate for herself.”
Now Young has carved out a new spot for herself in the Hayden community.
On Sept. 22, she was crowned Hayden’s homecoming queen.
Terry Young said she never dreamed her daughter would be able to attend a Catholic school. A friendship with Bill Holthaus and his late wife Joan, then a kindergarten teacher at Most Pure Heart of Mary, led to a conversation about the family’s challenges in finding the right school for their daughter.
Before the couple knew it, Joan Holthaus extended an invitation for Amanda to be in her class.
“It was incredible,” Terry Young said. “We never thought the Catholic school would be an option.”
As part of the kindergarten roundup process, Holthaus talked with the students who eventually became Amanda’s classmates, as well as their parents. That day, is one her mother will never forget.
“All of the students waited in line to hug Amanda,” she said.
Then tragedy struck.
Before Amanda was an official member of the kindergarten class, Holthaus died unexpectedly.
Nevertheless, the family enrolled Amanda at the school. It was a decision the family never regretted. It was something that would profoundly affect others, too.
For example, Jake Comstock, this year’s homecoming king, has been a classmate of Amanda’s since kindergarten.
She inspires him daily, he said.
“I didn’t know she was different at first,” Comstock said. “I just see her as another kid in my class.”
Watching her, he continued, he’s learned “to have a good attitude about everything and to persevere through struggles and difficulties.”
“She’s always smiling, and she’s always happy,” Comstock said. “Everybody in our senior class loves Amanda.”
In fact, Amanda’s happiness and love for everyone made her “a perennial favorite of the senior class,” according to Angela Herman, chair of Hayden’s theology department. Herman also coordinates the nomination of royalty candidates, as well as the actual voting process.
She was not surprised at all that Amanda received a large percentage of the votes, said Herman.
“Just spend five minutes with Amanda, and she will make your day,” she said.
Amanda’s mother was delighted to learn that many of her daughter’s classmates agreed. The night Amanda was crowned, Terry Young learned that most, if not all, of the other candidates voted for Amanda rather than themselves.
“She’s still grinning,” said her mother nearly two weeks later.
And what does Amanda herself think?
“Homecoming was so much fun!” she said with a big smile. “I loved being with all my friends and riding the Jeep in the parade.”