NEWARK, AR (KAIT) – Being chosen as homecoming queen carries a memory that many girls will fondly recall for a lifetime.
That's why the students at Cedar Ridge High School in Newark decided to give the crown this year to someone who they felt truly deserved it.
The students crowned Cassondra Kellems as the school's homecoming queen on Friday evening to honor her for struggling with more than just homework.
Kellems has battled a number of health issues throughout her life, including cancer and daily rounds of dialysis. She may never get a chance to live independently because of her mental and physical challenges, though she hardly acts like that fazes her.
"Oh, she's a trooper," said Diann Scarbrough. "You would never think anything was wrong with her."
Scarbrough has worked as Kellems' personal aide since preschool, but the past few weeks have welled up a great deal of emotion.
"It brought tears to my eyes," said Scarbrough, upon learning some of Kellems' classmates wanted to vote her onto the homecoming court.
"They (the students) almost made me cry, and they've done that every day since they got this started," she added. "This group of seniors is fantastic, especially with her (Kellems)."
Each year, the students choose a few girls to represent their class on the homecoming court. They then have to decide who is crowned the homecoming queen, and a campaign picked up momentum to give that title to Kellems.
"I'm one of the homecoming maids with her," said senior Kelsie Sisk, "and she's got it 100 percent. We know she's got it."
Sisk and her friend Courtney Cline led the effort to first elect Kellems as senior class maid, which the student body overwhelmingly supported.
"She's just a very caring person," Sisk said. "Everybody in school knows Cassondra, and she just really deserves to have this spot to be represented."
"She deserves to have it and to have this (title) the rest of her life because she's so nice," Cline added.
That friendliness coupled with her resilience has always inspired Kellems' classmates, like seniors Nikki Smart and Lauren Boreani.
They decided to design t-shirts and sell them to campaign for Kellems as queen, and they achieved their goal. They even took the time Friday before the homecoming pep rally to help their friend get ready.
"She was reluctant at first," Smart said. "She didn't want to do it, and then she decided she would on one condition – not to wear a dress. But, now, she'll wear a dress."
Kellems opted to wear pants to the pep rally, but saved her baby blue dress for the crowning ceremony on Friday evening.
"I'm not scared no more," Kellems said. "It's fun. I get to go out there and have fun and wear my dress."
While Kellems plans to ditch dresses in the future, her friends just hope that she feels special for the honor that she has received.
"She's probably never experienced anything like this," Boreani said, "and we all have had a chance to dress up and feel pretty."
"She takes it in stride," said her aide, Scarbrough. "You would never know she's excited, but she is. The kids have made her in their group. She's on the inside looking out, not the outside looking in this time. That's what she told her mom a couple weeks ago."