High school can be very hard. The pressure to wear the right clothes, say the right things, go to the right parties, have the right friends is ever present, ever intense.
As adults, people may look back on those high school years and wonder what all the fuss was about. But as teens, the majority of kids would privately admit that they want to feel that they “fit in.”
The actions of the graduating class of Seaway District High School at their 2012 prom, held on June 1, at Stanley’s Olde Maple Lane Farm, gave one special young woman a memory of “fitting in” that she will be able to cherish the rest of her life.
Her peers chose Martina Gibson as the 2012 prom queen. She was crowned before all the senior class, along with the prom king Zach Lalonde.
On Tuesday, June 19, this graduating class of Seaway District High School in Iroquois was honoured with the presentation, by Martina’s parents, Ron and Lisa Gibson, of a beautiful, engraved granite bench for the school courtyard. “We want future classes to remember this class of 2012,” Lisa Gibson told the seniors gathered in the yard with principal Terry Gardiner, and Greg Pietersma, chair of the UCDSB.
“We want this bench to be a lasting legacy. You gave our daughter Martina a special moment to shine. When future generations of Seaway kids read the message on this bench, perhaps the spirit of caring you showed will be passed on. Caring and tolerance and acceptance are needed more now than ever.”
Martina Gibson, 17, was diagnosed with autistic spectrum disorder when she was in senior kindergarten.
“This is a disorder which makes everything a struggle for a child,” her mother Lisa Gibson explained, “socially as well as academically. Standard learning techniques are rarely effective with this form of autism. Martina has a phenomenal memory, able to interpret ideas and details. But the precise skills, mathematics for example, are very difficult. She can discuss an historical event, but struggles with making change.”
Lisa explained that it was always very hard for Martina to feel she truly fit in at school. She wanted to feel part of the lives and the work that other kids had: at the same time, she and her parents faced a constant struggle to find approaches to learning that would fit her special needs.
“There have been times when she has withdrawn,” her mother said. “ It was never easy. She was often excluded from the parties, the shopping trips, and many of the things that all teens love.”
But Martina, with the support of her parents and family, persevered.
“I am so grateful that she has been at Seaway,” her mother Lisa said.
“This is a phenomenal school for children with special needs. Everyone at that school has gone over and above to accommodate Martina’s exceptionalities.
Teachers found ways to diversify the curriculum so that she could work at the same academic subjects as other students, but in a manner she could understand. It has still not been easy for her, but certain teachers have made a real difference to her progress and happiness.”
Martina’s sister and mother helped her with the excitement of getting ready for the big night with prom date Michael Richer: no one had any idea of what the evening would bring.
At 10:40 the family received a text message that Martina had been chosen the prom queen.
“I was crying,” Lisa said. “I know what this meant to her, what an honour it was.
We learned later that the entire senior class was on board to do this. She was the hands down winner. Her father and I talked this over, and we felt that the selflessness and kindness of those kids on prom night, this one act which had so deep an impact on another kid’s life, this needed to be recognized.”
Spontaneous applause burst out from the Seaway graduates when the stone bench was unveiled. Later they joined Martina (who had no idea of her parents’ plan to make the presentation, and was caught completely by surprise) and her family around the bench.
This is the message it bears. This is the legacy of the 2012 graduating class of Seaway District High School.
“This bench is dedicated to the class of 2012. Their selflessness on prom night allowed a very special young lady to feel accepted and loved.” How far you go in life depends on you being tender with the young, compassionate with the aged, sympathetic with the striving and tolerant of the weak and the strong. Because some day in life, you will have been all of these. – George Washington Carver.