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SPOTLIGHT: Memorable night for Auburn prom queen

By Farah Tamizuddin

The (Springfield) State Journal-Register

Published: Wednesday, April 13 2011 5:15 a.m. MDT

In this photo taken April 9, 2011, Jennifer Crowley dances with Michael Bates after the two were crowned king and queen of the 2011 Auburn High School prom at the Artisans Building in Springfield., Ill.

The State Journal-Register, Ted Schurter, Associated Press

AUBURN, Ill. — An under the sea-themed prom was all it took to make Jennifer Crowley feel on top of the world.

Jennifer, a senior at Auburn High School, had never been to a high school dance before, let alone a prom. But the 20-year-old senior was crowned prom queen Saturday night.

Jennifer has Down syndrome, a condition that delays a child's mental and physical development.

Jennifer is well liked by the Auburn student body, said Amy Howard, an art teacher who was in charge of the "Beneath the Ocean Blue" prom this year. Howard said she is glad Jennifer is getting this memorable accolade.

"I'm just tickled to death," Howard said. "I'm so happy (other students) wanted her to represent the student body."

Jennifer won by an overwhelming majority.

"She never really came to anything before and we usually just elect the same type of people every year," said Mary Parisotto, an 18-year-old senior, who voted for Jennifer.

Earlier this spring, Howard said she saw Jennifer at Formals of Litchfield, trying on dresses.

"It melted my heart," Howard said. "I could just imagine her mother never, in her wildest dreams, thought her daughter would go to prom."

Howard said earlier this year that she mentioned to a few of her female students how nice it would be if students would elect Jennifer to prom court. In February, students elected Jennifer not only to the court, but as prom queen.

Howard doesn't attribute Jennifer's win to her offhand comment, and campaigning for a candidate has never been allowed at Auburn. But she said she is extremely pleased Jennifer won.

"This little act says a lot about Auburn," said Howard.

Rachel Schmalshof, an 18-year-old senior at Auburn, got her classmates involved in voting for Jennifer.

She said it was mostly word of mouth but "spread like wildfire."

"I loved the idea and went and told all my friends and they loved the idea too," she said.

Rachel said her Spanish class spent an entire hour talking about nominating Jennifer and when she asked others, a common response was, "Why wouldn't we vote for her?"

Rachel and a group of others still had to ask permission from Jennifer's mother Connie Crowley, her teachers, and the principal, who all wanted to make sure Jennifer's nomination would be taken seriously.

"Jenny's a genuine person. We see her in the hallways and she smiles and waves and gives you that true smile it's hard to get. She deserves to be queen," Rachel said.

Jennifer is also in a community-based education program called Springfield Area Special Education and works for one hour a week at a video rental store in Virden.

"I want her to do everything she can, especially since it's her last year of high school," Connie said.

Jennifer ended up wearing a tailored yellow dress she already owned, but her mother said they "had fun shopping around and getting shoes."

Held at the Artisans Building in the Illinois State Fairgrounds on Saturday, coronation began at 9 p.m.

As Connie watched, the prom court walked through the crowd, with Jennifer and her escort, Blake Luttrell, at the end of the train. Jennifer easily got the biggest cheer from the crowd.

Last year's king and queen followed them. The prom king and queen were given crowns and bouquets of roses.

Jennifer went to prom with a few girls who had already graduated and her sister-in-law, Rebecca Crowley.

Connie said the sisters would ". do all the girly things together," and that before prom, Jennifer talked a lot about dancing, something she last did at her older brother Jacob's wedding.

Jennifer danced to Flo Rida's "Get Low," among other songs. The first dance, between Jennifer and the prom king Michael Bates, was "Fireflies" by Owl City.

"It was awesome," Michael said. "She lights up the room."

Elly Neunaber, a 17-year-old junior, said her family knows Jennifer's through church. Elly was partly surprised and partly expecting Jennifer to win.

"I know everyone wanted her," Elly said. "But on the other hand, there can be judgmental people."

Jennifer said she felt "great" and was excited with her surprise crowning.

Dakota Conrad and Elizabeth Grigsby were both on court with Jennifer and said they weren't surprised at her coronation.

"Everyone kind of knew she was the favorite," Dakota said. "You hear about these kind of things but to see it and be a part of it really makes it special."

Elizabeth agreed. "When we saw her name, we all knew we wanted her to win," she said.

Information from: The State Journal-Register, http://www.sj-r.com

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