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Long Island teens with Down syndrome voted prom king, queen

Brendan Higgins and Meghan Latini, both of Huntington,

Brendan Higgins and Meghan Latini, both of Huntington, were crowned Huntington High School's 2012 Prom King and Queen at Woodbury Country Club in Woodbury on June 21, 2012. Both Higgins and Latini have Down syndrome. Credit: Handout

When Meghan Latini was born with Down syndrome, mom Marianne hoped Meghan's peers would include her in their world — but she never imagined they would one day vote Meghan Huntington High School prom queen.

Meghan and her boyfriend, fellow senior Brendan Higgins, who also has Down syndrome, won queen and king by a landslide: The members of the senior class of 2012 crowned the couple royalty at the Woodbury Country Club last week.

“It made me feel like a little princess,” Meghan said. “They gave me a crown and a little sash.” Meghan said Brendan “looked really handsome” in his tuxedo, with a vest and tie that matched Meghan’s strapless, pink, formal dress.

Brendan is at sleep-away camp this week and couldn’t be reached for comment. But his mom, Jackie Higgins, called the senior class vote “a beautiful thing for them to do,” saying it speaks volumes about the students at Huntington High School: “Children with special needs aren’t always included and are not always embraced. Anybody with a difference is not always accepted so easily.”

The teachers counting the votes were “blown away,” said teacher Lauren Desiderio. “Pretty much everyone voted for them,” she said.

Meghan, 17, and Brendan, 18, have been dating for four years. While they were in a life skills program at Huntington High for some of their academic hours, they were also in some mainstream classes. Both participated in the drama club, and Latini swam on the girls’ swim team.

The two were born three months apart; they went to the same preschool at Our Lady Queen of Martyrs Church in Centerport. “They always wanted to date,” said Jackie Higgins. “We said, ‘You’re too young, you’re too young.’ Then they got older and we had to let them date. They are a great couple. They take very good care of each other.”

Said Meghan: “Our most favorite thing is going to the movies. Brendan knows every single movie and he tells me about them. He would know what’s coming out soon. My favorite thing about Brendan is how much he loves me. He makes me feel special and beautiful.”

Meghan and Brendan were first voted as best couple in the school yearbook. Then came the nomination for prom king and queen, which they knew about for a couple of weeks before prom night. But there’s a difference between being nominated and actually winning the crown. Meghan and Brendan were not the typical choice, Marianne Latini said. “I didn’t really think that in the end they were going to win,” she said.

“In the couple of weeks between nomination and prom, we tried to prepare her for how to react graciously and with class if she didn’t win,” said Meghan’s dad, Joe Latini. “She could be very dramatic. She could cry. I said, ‘No crying.’”

Meghan said she was confident she might win because a lot of her friends told her they were rooting for her. Meghan’s older sister, Caitlin, 26, and also a Huntington High School graduate, did Meghan’s hair for her. Brendan gave Meghan a corsage of pink flowers, and the couple traveled to the prom in a limousine. When Brendan and Meghan were named king and queen, they shared a dance.

Annie Coffey, a fellow graduating senior, was one of the people who voted for Meghan and Brendan. She said when their nomination was initially announced at school, she was in her physics class and "it was just like general concensus that we were all voting for them."

"I've been going to school with Meghan and Brendan since kindergarten," Coffey said. "When you get to discover the amazing people they really are, it was just so easy to want it for them really badly. To see them get that moment, it was absolutely incredible."

Meghan and Brendan graduated from Huntington High School last Friday, the day after prom. Next year, they will both participate in a job training program on Long Island.

“For these kids to succeed, it’s very nourishing,” said Joe Latini, who at first couldn't believe Brendan and Meghan clinched the king and queen titles. “This kind of stuff, it keeps her moving forward and encourages her to try challenges she might not otherwise go for.”
 

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