Five-year-old Michael Wakefield took his first step toward Brigham Young University when he and 16 other children put on graduation caps and accepted their diplomas from Kids on the Move.
"He's going to BYU," declared Michael's mom, Ann Wakefield. "We've talked about it."Graduating was a big deal to Michael. It was the first milestone in a life that will be filled with challenges.
"He's so excited. He thinks he's going to start kindergarten tomorrow, because he's graduating today," Ann says.
Michael and his mother hope he'll attend kindergarten next fall at the public school in their neighborhood, but it's not a foregone conclusion, because Michael has spina bifida, a congenital incomplete closure of the spinal column. The boy is paralyzed from his waist down. He already has had 10 operations, and several more will be necessary.
But like all students of Kids on the Move, a preschool where mentally and physically handicapped kids learn alongside non-handicapped children, Michael likes to focus on his strengths.
When the Deseret News last visited Michael in October 1987, he was just learning to walk using special crutches. Last week, when his name was called during the presentation of diplomas, Michael carefully got up from his wheelchair and, with "Pomp and Circumstance" playing in the background, quickly walked over to collect his diploma.
Michael's parents, grandparents and siblings were there for the occasion, which took place on the lawn of a church near the Kids on the Move building. They were joined by about 100 other people who came to see their own preschoolers graduate.
The students, who sat fidgeting on bleachers in front of the audience, wore white caps with tassels made by one of the mothers.
The kids sang some of their favorite songs, including "Honk, Honk, Waddle, Waddle" and "Clap Your Hands Everybody." The classic drama "The Three Bears" also was on the program. The play had a narrator and a cast of four - the three title characters and Goldilocks - and was well-received by the audience, especially when unscripted remarks were made, like when narrator Preston Goold expressed some frustration midway through the play.
". . .And the bears decided to take a walk," Preston said right on cue. The bears didn't walk. "And the bears decided to take a walk," he repeated with feeling. Seeing no movement, he commanded, "Take a walk, bears." They did.
The ceremony marked the end of Kids on the Move's first two years, and though the program's results have been good, no one is sure where it stands. The Alpine School District has been renting the old Spencer School building in Orem to Kids on the Move, but district officials have told the preschool's director, Karen Hahne, that she'll have to find another place next fall.
Because of a new state law, school districts will be required as of July 1 to provide education for handicapped kids beginning at 3 years. Alpine will have to develop its own program for that group of students. Meantime, Hahne plans to offer a program for children 18 months to 3 years, if she can find a place by September.
She'll need a space big enough for 30 children, and she'll be looking all summer. Kids on the Move gets some money from the state Social Services Department, but it's a private operation, so money shortages are an ever-present concern.
The uncertainty of the future didn't dampen graduation, though.
"We thought we'd have a ceremony this year since it might be the very last class in Spencer. The kids deserve to be seen. We're so darn proud of them, we can't stand it," Hahne said. "This has been the neat-est experience of my life. I'm so grateful."