1,500 high school students sat in silent anticipation. Through the pitch black gymnasium came the blinding spotlights, which intensified the nerves of the homecoming king and queen candidates all the more. Over the sound system, the candidates’ biographies started booming. “Your next queen candidate is..." I looked around at the packed stands, turned to my mom and dad beside me, and together we walked to the center of the gymnasium floor.
As we walked, the lights made my nerves even more evident. What do the other students think of me? Am I nice enough? Have I done anything that would make them not like me? The questions, doubt and excitement were whirling around in my head. I made it to the center, hugged my parents and made my way to the front.
I watched from the stage as the third and final king candidate entered the gym. Each candidate so far had received cheers, hoots and hollers from the stands, but none like this one. One name was chanted, over and over, filling the large gymnasium:
“YOKO! YOKO! YOKO!”
Yoko was a student with a learning and developmental disability. While this meant he had to work harder in some areas, making friends was not one of them. Every time I saw Yoko in the hallway, I received a “Hi, Mariah!” with a friendly wave. I always returned the greeting and as he’d pass I would hear, “Hi, Emily! Hi, Trevor! Hi….” Yoko gave each person he knew a genuine greeting every time he saw them. He always seemed to make my day with his one simple gesture.
Yoko never cared what anybody thought of him. He didn’t dress based on what society said was cool. He didn’t need to be involved in every club or organization to be recognized. Yoko lived each day with joy. He made a difference in the lives of students by being kind to everyone, regardless of how they acted in return. Yoko was... Well, Yoko.
Yoko was who he was meant to be, regardless of his circumstances. Like Yoko, we need to live each day proud of who we are.
Why live life in a way that only pleases the demands of others? Society has this thought for us, that we are to live up to the standards that it sets. But when you look at the people around you, who are the happiest people you know? Who makes the decisions that will take them far in life? Who makes a difference in others’ lives, despite the response they might get? Those people you’re thinking of stay true to themselves and who they are. Are you one of them?
Just be YOU, because YOU are good enough. YOU are smart. YOU are capable. YOU have what it takes to accomplish anything you set your mind to.
Dr. Suess had it right when he said, “Today you are You, that is truer than true. There is no one alive who is Youer than You.”
Never forget the lesson I learned from the 2013 Forest Lake High School Homecoming King, Yoko Yang:
Just be YOU.
Stationed by the ear of corn,