If it had happened to someone else, it might have been considered a happy ending.
But when Brandon Gruber, an 18-year-old senior with Down syndrome, was carried off the Aptos High School football field this past September after being voted homecoming king, it wasn't a happy ending to his story.
To be clear, Brandon was happy. It just wasn't an ending to him.
"I decided to make it the beginning of my new journey," Brandon says.
It is a journey that, this past weekend, led to the Aptos High School Winter Ball and Brandon paying for tickets, tuxes and transportation for five classmates who otherwise would not have been able to attend.
"I wanted to help my friends," Brandon says.
In spite of his recent popularity, Brandon says he still remembers what it feels like to be an outsider in high school. Brandon's family moved from Brentwood to Aptos when he was just about to enter high school. Being the new kid at school is rarely an easy transition. Being the new kid with Down syndrome just makes things harder.
Asked if he was happy during his early high school years, Brandon replies with a single word: "Never."
By the time he was a senior, though, Brandon had decided things had to change. "I told my mom I wanted to blow up my senior year. I wanted to make my mark." Brandon joined a number of clubs and organizations and put himself out there socially like he had never done before.
His homecoming coronation is evidence it worked. "It was pretty exciting," Brandon says. It made such an impression on him, in fact, he decided to share the feeling with others.
He began to sell note cards with art on them that he created. His plan was to raise enough money to pay for half-a-dozen other students with special needs and low-income students to go to the Winter Ball, something they would otherwise be left out of.
His plan worked.
After having their pictures taken on a bluff overlooking the ocean, the friends went out to dinner, finally arriving, fashionably late, at the Seascape Golf Club for the dance.