“It all began when I said hi to Shawn in the hall one day. If you say hi once to him he’s your friend. He started writing notes to me—friendly, chatty ones. Then in the spring when I ran for student-body president, he was my greatest support.”
This is how the friendship began between a shy, mentally-handicapped boy and one of the most popular girls in the school.
After Mary Kay Harrop was elected student-body president of Lehi High School in Lehi, Utah, in the spring of 1989, her friendship with Shawn Broadhead continued into the next year. And he kept writing her notes. But when the time for senior prom rolled around, Mary Kay was totally clueless when Shawn’s notes became hints asking her to be his date.
“The prom was not on my mind,” Mary Kay says. A boy she had been dating had just left for a mission. Also she was extremely busy with her many tasks as student-body president.
One week before the prom, Shawn’s father, Kent Broadhead, had business at the school and decided to talk with Mary Kay. “I wanted to give her a way out without hurting anybody’s feelings. We were assuming she wouldn’t go,” he said. “I explained that Shawn had been trying to ask her to the dance and he wanted to have his picture taken with her.” Mary Kay’s response was an unexpected but pleasant surprise. “Shawn’s a great friend. I would love to go with him,” she said.
“She never hesitated for a moment to accept,” recalls Shawn’s father.
Shawn’s mother, Ladonna Broadhead, describes Shawn’s reaction: “When Mary Kay called and told him she would accept his invitation, there wasn’t a wall that could contain him. He called all of his friends and wrote to his brothers who were on missions. He was so excited.”
The day after Mary Kay accepted Shawn’s invitation, she tuned in to the Saturday morning session of April general conference. Elder Boyd K. Packer was speaking about our responsibility to the handicapped members of the Church. “When Elder Packer said we ‘manifest the works of God’ in our actions toward the handicapped, it hit me. I knew I was supposed to hear this talk,” she says. “I realized that I was not just going to the prom to please Shawn—to do him a favor. He was doing me the favor. I was the honored one!”
Early the next week, Mary Kay was sharing her feelings with some of her friends at work. One of them made the suggestion to invite all of the special education kids to the dance. And from there, the next few days were a whirlwind. Mary Kay went to Russell Felt, the principal of Lehi High, and he gave his permission. With the help of the special ed teacher, Dalene Callins, all the parents of the students were notified. Then Mary Kay and her mother, Alice Ann Harrop, arranged to have a turkey dinner for Shawn and nine of his classmates before the dance. “Mom did the whole meal, and my two younger sisters helped set up the tables and serve. They all really came through for us,” says Mary Kay.
Rides were arranged for everyone to the hotel where the prom was being held. Mary Kay continues, “When we got there, they were all bubbling over with excitement. The sophomore class president, Jon Bailey, took turns dancing with the girls from special ed and I danced with the boys so no one would feel left out. They were such a fun, enthusiastic group. The whole student-body responded to them. One boy in a wheelchair was pulled all over the dance floor. He had the time of his life!”
Of course, Mary Kay did not forget that Shawn was her official date for the evening. “Shawn was great,” she says. “He bought me the most beautiful corsage I’ve ever had, and he rented a tuxedo—all with money earned from a part-time job. And we did get our picture taken together.”
Mary Kay says this activity awakened an awareness in the students at Lehi High. “The special ed students have the right to be involved, and we should make more of an effort to include them,” she says.
This year, Mary Kay has been attending Ricks College, while Shawn has been completing his senior year in special ed at Lehi High. His father comments, “It’s a good school. I have such an appreciation for all the kids who befriend young people like Shawn. The special ed students don’t know they’re any different because they’re treated like they’re normal. It means so much to all of us parents who have children like Shawn.”
“This experience did more for me than it did for the kids involved,” claims Mary Kay. “I needed it to happen. It made the whole school year worthwhile.”
So, does that mean she would do it all over again, if she could? “Absolutely! Only I’d do it sooner,” she says.