Senior With Down Syndrome Crowned High School Queen

Kirstin Pass, 18, was crowned homecoming queen at her Texas high school.

October 13, 2008, 5:19 PM

Oct. 14, 2008 — -- The title of homecoming queen is typically reserved for the head cheerleader or student class president, but not so at one Texas high school where this year's queen saw hundreds of onlookers moved to tears as she was crowned.

"There wasn't a dry eye to be seen," said Carolyn Pass, the mother of newly crowned queen Kristin Pass, who was born with Down syndrome 18 years ago.

Kristin Pass told that she was thrilled to receive the crown.

"I was surprised and happy about [winning]," she said.

The crowd at the Aledo High School football stadium erupted into cheers and gave her a standing ovation during halftime at Friday evening's game, Pass said.

"Everyone said 'good job,'" she said.

Down syndrome affects one in every 733 babies born each year, according to the National Down Syndrome Society, and occurs when a person has three, not two, copies of the 21st chromosome.

And while some may assume Pass' condition might alienate her from her peers, the teen's family and friends say that she's always had a lot of friends.

"I don't think there is another human in this world who has as many friends as Kristin does," said Chari Hust, Kristin's aunt. "She's a great kid."

Kristin was one of three senior girls chosen from a field of about 15 to vie for the title, and she was as shocked as everyone else when the results of the vote were announced, her aunt said.

"Her smile was probably as big as the state of Texas," said Hust of her niece's reaction to her prize. "She kept mouthing 'thank you' from the stage.

"Everyone in the stands burst into tears -- I've never heard anything so loud in my life," Hust said. "Everyone was on their feet yelling, 'Yeah, Kristin!' louder than they had been cheering during the game."

Quashing any doubts that the results may have been fixed in Pass' favor, Hust emphasized that there was no foul play behind the scenes.

"There was no campaign to make sure that Kristin won -- this naturally happened," Hust said. "She is the coolest kid in the whole wide world."

On top of battling the hardships of living with Down syndrome -- such as cognitive delays and an increased risk for heart defects and respiratory and hearing problems -- Pass' father died suddenly two years ago.

Her father's absence meant tweaking the high school's tradition of having the homecoming queen candidates escorted to the event by their fathers.

For Pass, it was her grandfather, David Campbell, who led her onstage to be crowned.

"It was very emotional," said Campbell, who also drove the red convertible Kristin rode in during the homecoming parade held by the school earlier in the week. "You can't measure how proud I was. Every fiber in my body was happy for her.

"She didn't say much [when she was crowned], she was too busy smiling," he said. "I gave her a kiss on the cheek and a hug and she was kind of letting it soak in. It got real when we got to the sidelines. All her friends came over and she was giving high-fives to everyone."

Campbell said that while Pass' post-graduation plans have not been finalized, he is sure that her strong work ethic and intelligence will help her succeed.

"She is incredible in so many ways," Campbell said of Pass, who holds a part-time job at a local restaurant and is a computer whiz.

"She gets along well and meets people well," said Campbell. "That hand goes out as soon as she sees someone she doesn't know."

But among all of her screaming fans, Pass' biggest cheerleader may be her 14-year-old sister, Kendall, who told that she considers her sister to be her best friend.

"When I saw her win, it made me very proud she was my sister," said Kendall, who said her sister has been reluctant to take off her crown since she got it. "To be through so much and have this blessing, it was unbelievable. It was one of the happiest moments of my life."

Pass, Kendall said, has also been a constant source of inspiration.

"I've learned so much from her, like not to judge people," she said.

"Sometimes you might get a little freaked out by a person but she doesn't. She just goes up to people and says 'hello,'" she said. "She's taught me so much."