Dusk was hitting as students gathered around Danville Golf Club’s balcony in anticipation to hear who would be announced Prom King and Queen. Students had been rallying and rooting for one particular student all week to be crowned, but nerves were still high as the moment finally arrived.
The beating hearts and anxiousness turned into a roar of applause and cheers as Mrs. Kristen Williams announced through the speakers that Prom King—“by a considerable landslide vote”—is A.J. (William Arthur Joseph) Warren.
A.J.’s name was called and he stepped up to get his crown.
“I was surprised,” he said.
A.J. being voted Prom King was a moving moment for students not only because of his loveable personality and big heart, but also because he is autistic and was born legally blind. “A.J. will very proudly inform you that he is different. He says if we were all the same what a boring world it would be!” said his mother, Deborah Warren.
A.J. was born as a micro-preemie at 23 weeks and was known as ‘Wild Willy’ in the hospital because he was such a fighter. “We were told numerous times that it was in God’s hands and that he would not live,” his mother said. She credits “God’s will, A.J.’s tenacity, and terrific teachers” to his success.
Before making his entrance, AJ and his date, junior Demi Mills, snapped photos downtown and ate dinner at Chick-fil-A, A.J.’s choice for their pre-prom dinner. “He was so excited about being prom king and so happy to see how many people know of him and talk to him. I was so happy for him!” Mills said.
Junior Stone Thurman spent this week campaigning for A.J., who he has known since third grade. “He likes to socialize with all the girls in our grades and he was excited to go to prom. I knew he would love to be Prom King,” Thurman said.
Assistant Principal Kirsten Harper was overcome with emotion at the announcement, and wiped tears away as she said, “I’m at the sweetest high school ever.”
Homecoming King Caleb Ashworth would have been an easy pick for Prom King, as he is well known and respected by his peers, but his response to A.J.’s victory was simply, “It’s awesome!”
The strobe lights and loud music were a little too much sensory overload for A.J., who never officially made it on to the dance floor for his first dance with Prom Queen Bridget Carter, but he still had a great time.
Mr. Adam Louhoff is Warren’s reading and math teacher. He felt that it was great for him and “something he will be remember for the rest of his life.”
Warren’s cousin, Michael Decker, accompanied A.J. and was humbled by the crowning. “I am very excited. I was completely shocked. I don’t even have words to describe how beautiful that is.”
Mrs. Warren came to pick A.J. up and was in complete awe and shock. After seeing her son in a crown, she began to cry. “I love the students here,” she said. “It means so much that they treat him so well.”
She went on to state that the biggest thing that will come from A.J. being elected Prom King by his peers is “a tremendous boost in his self-esteem. A.J. has always been taught to celebrate his differences,” she said.
Tunstall’s Interact Club, who A.J. is an active member of, plans to have a “Team A.J.” at the upcoming Autism Walk on April 25.