Many little girls want to be homecoming queen, but that dream may be more difficult for some to achieve than others.
The Downers Grove North High School senior class recently helped bridge that gap from dream to reality by naming Anne Wagner, an 18-year-old senior with Down syndrome and leukemia, as its 2013 homecoming queen.
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Wagner was nominated by her classmates and crowned during an emotional ceremony on Sept. 27. On Tuesday afternoon, Anne's friends and family got choked up again when Gov. Pat Quinn visited and proclaimed it Downers Grove North High School Day in Illinois in honor of Anne and her classmates.
"I think (Anne's crowning) was very special and worthy of recognition because all of the people of Illinois have a duty where, here on Earth, service to others is the rent we pay for our place on God's Earth," Quinn told students during an assembly. "I want to make sure everyone in Illinois knows what Downers Grove North High School did was something very special. Your high school showed, in a very vivid, meaningful way, what including everyone is all about."
Anne's mother, Amy Wagner, admitted she was nervous about "where this all may go" when Anne's longtime friend, Mary Doro, sought permission to nominate Anne. After seeing how the honor lifted Anne's spirits, Amy Wagner said her fears were calmed.
"When you are the parent of a child with special needs, it is unfortunate but true that the idea of your child being given the honor of homecoming queen is quite honestly not in your realm of thinking," Amy Wagner said. "There are so many facets to this story because not only did the senior class recognize and honor someone's differences, but they also recognized another friend's struggles and admired Anne's courage and strength as Anne has been battling leukemia for the last year and a half."
Anne was diagnosed with leukemia in February 2012 and was forced to miss half of her sophomore year and all of her junior year as she underwent an aggressive chemotherapy treatment at the Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children's Hospital in Chicago. During that time, her classmates visited regularly, texted with her and chatted regularly on social media platforms.
Not only did they admire Anne's courage and strength, Doro said, but students were inspired by her.
"She has been so brave during this tough time and she has definitely been an inspiration. She has inspired us to do something special," Doro said. "We gave her something that every little girl dreams of but who says we have to stop here? We can continue to be inspired by Annie. Why not move forward from here and do good in other areas?"