Newark students rally around classmate for homecoming queen

By Emily Van Zandt Originally Published November 29, 2012 at 12:00 a.m.
Updated November 28, 2012 at 9:41 a.m.
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PHOTO BY: Rusty Hubbard

From the left, Cheyenne Willis, Cassondra Kellems and Kelsie Sisk are homecoming maids at Cedar Ridge High School in Newark. Kellems has battled cancer and heart issues, and now has kidney problems. A few weeks ago, elections for homecoming maids were held. The day before the elections, a group of seniors asked Kellems if she could be a homecoming maid. They then took up a campaign to make sure she was elected — not to make her feel uncomfortable or be put on display, but to honor her.

— The final vote is still a day away, but students at Cedar Ridge High School are pretty sure they know who is going to be crowned 2012 Homecoming Queen.

Even the two other girls nominated are pretty sure the third has it in the bag. They’re not bitter. They couldn’t be happier. The title couldn’t go to a more deserving student.

Cassondra Kellems, 19, has grown up with her senior classmates. In a class of around 50 students, everyone knows her name. They know her hugs. They know her nicknames. They know how she never holds back on the truth.

“She’ll let you know how it is,” said senior Cheyenne Willis, who is also a 2012 homecoming maid. “She’s honest with you if you’re getting on her nerves or if you’re not following rules.”

Kellems often meets up with Willis and her friends at lunch. Through the years, Kellems has grown close with nearly everyone in her class, but she doesn’t see them much on weekends. Since birth, she has struggled with mental and physical challenges. She’s had a heart transplant, battled cancer and is now on dialysis, but her physical setbacks have never kept her from bonding with her classmates.

Kellems spends roughly half her time in regular senior classes and half in special-education classes. Her mom, Darlene Kellems,

always knew Cassondra was an outgoing person, but it wasn’t until her daughter was nominated for homecoming queen that Darlene realized just how close she had become with this year’s senior class.

“This year, she’s really changed,” Darlene said.

When it came time to nominate senior girls to be homecoming queen and homecoming maids, several members of the senior class — including Courtney Cline, Lauren Boreani, Nikki Smart and homecoming maid Kelsie Sisk — helped forward a text message urging senior students to vote for Cassondra. They didn’t want to pressure anyone to vote a certain way, just give them the suggestion. But they didn’t have to push too much. Everyone jumped at the chance to honor their friend Cassondra.

“We want her to have these memories for the rest of her life,” Boreani said.

Though Cassondra was at first hesitant — she didn’t want to wear a dress — now she’s on board with the plan.

“I’m excited for Friday night,” Cassondra said.

Though no votes have been cast for queen yet, Willis feels certain Cassondra will win. Many seniors plan to wear “Vote for Cassondra” T-shirts Friday to persuade any last-minute undecideds.

Since Cassondra was 3 years old, Diann Scarbrough has worked as her aide in school. Though Scarbrough had seen how close Cassondra had grown to members of the senior class, it still surprised her when the students organized to vote for Cassondra.

“There have been so many times these past few weeks when what they’re doing has made me cry,” Scarbrough said.

Darlene had only heard about her daughter’s senior friends on the drives home, never seen the friendship in action until recently. She was shocked when she heard what the senior class had done. Now many in her family plan to be there for the crowning ceremony Friday night, including Cassondra’s father, Dennis.

“It means the world to [Cassondra],” Darlene said. “She said the other day, ‘Now I feel like the rest of the girls.’”

Though she’s never been one for dresses, Cassondra has a long baby-blue, spaghetti-strap dress picked out with a matching wrap. She’s eager to graduate and move to the next step like her friends.

“I want to go to college, get a job and get a car,” Cassondra said.

Though her mother still isn’t sure what the next year will bring, she’s sure of one thing — this weekend will be one her daughter will never forget.

Staff writer Emily Van Zandt can be reached at (501) 399-3688 or evanzandt@arkansasonline.com.

Staff Writer Emily Van Zandt can be reached at 501-399-3688 or emily@syncweekly.com.

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