Mackenzie Aldrich is a vibrant 18-year-old but sometimes exudes the innocence of a girl much younger.
Mackenzie likes to create collages for people from magazine-page cutouts. She never forgets anyone's birthday. She's happy and sweet and goofy at times, which is why she's so universally loved by those around her.
It's also the reason why her fellow students at Portage (Ind.) High School nominated Mackenzie for this year's Homecoming court.
But Mackenzie also has autism — which led the school to suggest to her parents that the senior who made the honor roll last June not participate in next week's Homecoming activities, including the election and parade and football game.
"The school wondered if it would be the right thing — would kids make fun of her?" Officials also feared the nomination may have been an attempt to humiliate her, Mackenzie's dad, Tom Aldrich, told TheBlaze. "But we thought it was her time to shine."
More than that, Aldrich says, nominating Mackenzie for the Homecoming court was not a setup to ridicule her — only the opposite. "We've heard so many positive messages from other students and former students about the impact she's had on them," he tells TheBlaze. "The student body voted for her in a legitimate way."
Aldrich shares that when Mackenzie was diagnosed with autism around age four, he and his wife Amy wondered what possibilities and opportunities might await their oldest daughter. "College is not going to be in her future; getting married and having a family is not going to be in her future — we're her family," Aldrich tells TheBlaze. "We accept those things and love Mackenzie and her spirit and her personality."
So when the Homecoming nomination came up, Mackenzie wasn't the only one in the Aldrich household who was excited about it. "I did not expect 14 years later something like this could happen," Aldrich says. "This is a cool thing for Mackenzie and exciting for us."
A writer for the Windy City Times expresses the same sentiments: "Let’s see what we can do to make Mackenzie’s homecoming court appearance a night she will remember for all the right reasons. We need a superfan section...Let’s pack the stands. And make sure that Mackenzie knows we are there for HER."
The moment Aldrich looks forward to in particular is the chance to be Mackenzie's escort during Homecoming ceremonies — even though he knows he'll "a blubbering mess."
"For so long we tried helping Mackenzie and realized that certain things she's never going to get," Aldrich concludes. "But for the last four or five years she's been teaching me. I've been learning from her."