For Texas high school classmates Jared Friemel and Gracie Kiltz, life has been a battle since birth.
Friemel was born with severe Down syndrome and had open-heart surgery at the age of two. While other kids were out playing, he was under the constant, watchful care of his mother Charlotte Friemel.
Like Friemel, Kiltz was also born with severe Down syndrome. Her terrible two’s entailed being diagnosed with leukemia. During chemotherapy, she flat-lined for 20 minutes, but survived. However, it left her with brain damage and unable to speak.
Yet one sweet day, their two lonely paths would unite in a majestic fashion that lit up both the school and our hearts.
How a School Honored Two of Their Finest Students
On most days, it’s the Georgetown Eagles football team that’s the main show on campus. But on this day, the school was buzzing for a different attraction.
That’s because this was the school’s homecoming game. In front of a full house, they welcomed the king and queen, voted by the students. There, under the bright lights, they rolled out the carpet for none other than Friemal and Kiltz. Both king and queen won in a landslide.
There was Friemel, decked out in a king’s crown and sash with a smile fit for royalty.
Meanwhile, John Kiltz wheeled Queen Gracie to the 50-yard line at the high school’s football field in front of a cheering crowd.
He recalled the proud moment to ABC news.
“I mean to me, I was on the field with her and I said I kept whispering, you know I’m so proud of you, I am so proud of you,” he said.
Jared’s mother Charlotte was also moved by the student’s motivation.
“We are very proud of not just him but the whole Georgetown student body,” she said. “They did this and have looked deep into who they are as a student body. Teachers didn’t do this, the students did and have made two students very happy.”
Yet, this queen’s power would prove to be much more than symbolic.
How a Homecoming Queen’s Legacy Lives On
It turns out that Gracie’s power to inspire dated far before her being crowned.
Her strength to survive as a child was motivation for her mother Erin to start ‘His Grace Foundation.‘ Its mission is to provide physical, emotional, and financial support to children and their families in the Bone Marrow Transplant Unit of Texas Children’s Hospital in Houston.
Then as Gracie reached high school, her mom created Brookwood in Georgetown (BiG), which provides post-high school programs for adults with special needs.
Gracie’s story will also live on in the book ‘The Triumph Book: Raising Wheels,’ which tells stories of parents and their awesome-abled children.
Sadly, Gracie died eight years after being crowned. She can rest easy knowing that her smile and spirit continue to brighten the lives of so many. Her mother summed up her memory best:
“Gracie was magnetic and, without a word, she had the ability to encourage others,” Erin says. “You felt that unconditional love.”
How 2 Students Proved That We’re All Great When Given a Chance
We can credit the courts as well as the classroom to thank for this special homecoming moment. Under federal law, students with special needs were given the right to be in the same classes as the rest of the students.
This has been brought to life at high schools like Georgetown High School with a program called Peer Buddies, which connects students with their special needs student peers on a regular basis.
The biggest success one can hope from these programs is realizing that ‘special’ students are just as capable as their peers. Sure, they have physical challenges. Yet, give them the tools and a chance, and watch them shine like royalty.
Somewhere, you just know that Gracie is smiling in approval.