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A royal surprise for West Aurora’s prom king

West Aurorprom king Todd Nardone poses Saturday night with queen LolVargas dinner dance AshtPlace Willowbrook. | Al Bensphoto

West Aurora prom king Todd Nardone, poses Saturday night with queen Lola Vargas at the dinner dance at Ashton Place in Willowbrook. | Al Benson photo

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Updated: June 14, 2013 6:25AM

Todd Nardone didn’t expect it.

His mom Debbie did; but only because she and husband Jim were given a heads-up the day before that their son would be crowned king at West Aurora High School’s prom on Saturday night.

Was she excited? Who wouldn’t be thrilled to know their kid would win such an honor his senior year of high school?

What makes this crown all the more special is the fact Todd has cerebral palsy; and has spent so many of his school days advocating for inclusion.

From the time he was in fifth grade, and asked to speak to some of his classes about his disabilities, Todd has not shied away from that advocacy role. Once he got to high school, he worked with the district to make improvements to classrooms, athletic arenas and the building so that it was more compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Included in those changes were handicap accessible restrooms at the football stadium and auditorium; and improvements to the parking lot and bus stop to make it easier for those with wheelchairs and other disabilities.

Debbie Nardone, who gives high praise to district administrators and the West Aurora School Board for their ongoing efforts, said her son also advocated for improvements to Fearn Elementary and Herget Middle schools.

Todd, who continues to speak freely and passionately about his disability, even made a video that went on to win West High’s best Youtube documentary for 2010. His goal, he says, is to help others realize that those with disabilities are a lot more like their classmates than they are different.

Todd certainly felt that inclusion Saturday night at Ashton Place in Willowbrook, where more than 730 students gathered to celebrate the West Aurora High School Prom. According to coordinator Natalie Gross, king and queen candidates go through a strict nominating procedure that includes endorsements from students and faculty. There were 12 candidates this year, including Lola Vargas, who was crowned 2013 queen.

When Todd Nardone heard his name called out next, his mom noticed her son “jump” slightly from the surprise. Then he was all smiles as the crowd cleared a path for his wheelchair. As he made his way toward the front, the room gave him a standing ovation.

After Queen Lola placed the crown on his head, the emcee enthusiastically announced it was time to “get this party started!”

And so they did. Todd’s robotic-like wheelchair pushed him into a standing position. And with his date at his side — and his one-on-one aid close by, as well — he never left the dance floor for the next two hours, except to take off his jacket.

Although Todd was plenty tired Sunday morning when his mom got him up for church, it wasn’t surprising that he was still on an adrenalin high.

The best part of the evening: “My friends’ support,” he told me.

And the highlight of his school days? “Making improvements,” replied Todd, that not only “helped me find acceptance” but paved “the way for others” to come.

Todd was one of 40 students chosen to attend the Illinois Rehabilitation Education Center/Roosevelt at the University of Illinois Chicago, where he’ll learn transitional skills to help prepare him for independent living that he hopes will include a career in computers.

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