ALEDO — When Kristin Pass was born 18 years ago and diagnosed with Down syndrome, the family did not quite know what to expect, says her mother, Carolyn Pass.
What they got Friday was royalty, as Aledo Senior High School students voted Kristin Pass their homecoming queen.
"The first thing that I thought about was my friends," the new queen said Saturday before attending the homecoming dance at the school with her date, a friend in college who returned to town for the dance.
"I have a lot of good friends in Aledo," Kristin said. "They are all real good to me."
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Down syndrome is a set of mental and physical symptoms that result from having an extra copy of chromosome 21, according to the National Institutes of Health Web site. Even though people with Down syndrome may have some physical and mental features in common, symptoms of Down syndrome can range from mild to severe. Usually, mental development and physical development are slower in people with Down syndrome than in those without it.
People with the syndrome may also have other health problems. They may be born with heart disease. They may have dementia. They may have hearing problems and problems with their intestines, eyes, thyroid and skeleton, the NIH Web site said.
But the people of Aledo have always treated Kristin Pass "just like any other teen," her mother said.
Because of her condition, the Kristin Pass story is not typical of royalty, according to friends and family members. At 7 months old, Kristin Pass had open-heart surgery. A more recent shock: her father, J.T. Pass, died two years ago of a heart attack while he was relaxing at home, family members said. Her father’s death meant that David Campbell, Kristin’s grandfather, was chosen to escort her onto the football field before her coronation.
"I don’t think she said a thing," said Campbell, a physician who lives in Corsicana. "We kissed and she got her flowers and crown, then enjoyed the affection of her friends for the rest of the evening."
Kristin was one of several seniors nominated by fellow students for homecoming queen. The field was narrowed to three finalists, and Kristin won that vote.
Through all the family’s challenges, the people who voted for Kristin learned to revere and respect her family as a group of people who radiate love.
Her coronation as queen was just a way the town could give some of that love back, said Ashlyn Utley, a family friend and an Aledo freshman.
"I believe that Kristin is an inspiration to everyone," Utley said. "She accepts you for what you are, no matter your race, no matter what clique you belong to. She’s truly a social butterfly. She’s a role model to everyone at the school."
Kristin’s sister, Kendall Pass, said the groundswell of support that ultimately elected her sister homecoming queen was organic and not contrived.
There was no campaign, Kendall Pass said.
Because Kristin works at a Railhead Smokehouse restaurant and as a counselors’ aide at the Pines Catholic Camp near Big Sandy in East Texas, she is known by a lot of people in town, family members said.
"Whenever she doesn’t know someone, she introduces herself," Kendall Pass said. "She talks to everyone like she’s their best friend. Sometimes people are having a bad day and she stops to talk to them to cheer them up.
"I think this happened because people at school thought she was the best choice, because she was a good friend and because they all liked her," she said.
There was genuine excitement throughout the student body in reaction to Kristin’s nomination, said Sheryl Preston, Aledo Senior High principal.
"She’s very well-known on campus and very well-liked," Preston said. "For the senior class to honor her this way was remarkable. It speaks very well for our student body."
Meaghan Geary, a 17-year-old senior at Aledo and one of the new queen’s best friends, said word spread very quickly after the nomination that everyone should vote for Kristin.
"At halftime, when they made the announcement, everyone in the student section stood up and screamed as loud as they could," Geary said. "Last night, I was sitting with her in her room, and she looked up at me and said, ‘My dad would be so proud of me.’ "