Brendan Ritchie, 18, a good student at Fort Zumwalt West High School in O’Fallon, Missouri, gained the spotlight after asking his special friend to go to the prom with him.
Ritchie, an athlete and a member of the cross-country team at his school, didn’t choose who to bring to school dance based on who was the most popular. He relied on something much more authentic—friendship.
For the past few years, a group of teenagers at Fort Zumwalt West High School spent their lunchtime together. Ellie McCool was one of them.
Ellie McCool was born with Rett Syndrome, a rare but severe brain disorder that affects girls. She didn’t get diagnosed until she was almost four years old.
“She sat up on time, rolled over on time, fed herself with both hands, played with toys,” said her mom Mickie McCool.
Ellie’s condition made it more difficult for her to communicate, especially verbally. Ellie‘s parents and peers, however, have consistently emphasized her abilities rather than her impairment.
“She really is very bright and she is very caring and loving,” said Nicole Orf, Ellie’s best friend.
“She’s just a very happy person,” Brendan Ritchie shared. “She is always positive. She’s always got a smile on her face.”
It was natural to offer Ellie the same kindness and caring she had given them over the years. Brendan had a good idea of who he wanted to take to the prom.
Brendan arrived at school wearing an Iron Man mask and invited Ellie to the prom in front of everyone as he knew that Ellie’s favorite movie was Iron Man.
“She’s just a really awesome girl and she deserves to go to prom with someone and I felt if it was going to be anybody, I’d like it to be me,” said Brendan.
Ellie was amazed, and of course, her answer was yes. Her mother was overjoyed for her, as were her friends. They all knew she deserved this special moment in her life, this once-in-a-lifetime memory.
Ellie was fully prepared for the prom night. When Brendan came, she was dressed for the event and eager to go.
Their lunch table companions were all present at the prom as well. They enjoyed the evening together, taking photos, dancing, and making the most of a mutual and fantastic time that would become an unforgettable part of this fantastic group of teenagers’ high school experience.