Jesse Anderson was stunned to be selected Fire and Ice king by fellow seniors at Richfield High School on Thursday, but at least one administrator had an inkling he might win.
"We actually kind of predicted that he might be [king]. He's just a very kind, very outgoing kid, fun. He would never hurt a flea," said Teresa Rosen, assistant principal at Richfield High School. "We were thrilled for him."
Anderson, a popular student who participates in theatre, also has autism.
"I was very surprised indeed," he said. "It was such a wonderful gift from my classmates."
When Anderson won, he jumped up and down and pumped his fists. His parents and grandparents were present in the gym during the pep fest to witness the moment, Rosen said.
During the assembly, "the teachers were just choked up," Rosen added. "People just could hardly hold back the tears."
At Richfield High School, a homecoming queen is traditionally chosen in the fall and a Fire and Ice king is picked during the school's winter festivities week by the same name. All senior boys are initially eligible to receive the honor. This year, the field was narrowed to eight young men, who appeared at the assembly dressed in tuxedos and escorted by female classmates.
Anderson got to wear his crown and tuxedo all day at school on Thursday. He said it's an honor and a privilege to represent his class and the city of Richfield in his role.
While high school is sometimes perceived as a difficult place to be different, Anderson said he has long felt accepted at his school despite being autistic. Other students have always "treated me with kindness and respect," he said, allowing him to come out of his shell and be himself during the past four years.
With its diverse student body, acceptance of others is a part of Richfield High School's identity -- and choosing to honor a differently-abled student is in keeping with that, Rosen said.
"By senior year, the kids are like, 'This is who we are and we want to share that,'" she said.