“You look beautiful today!”
photos by Angelina Bellebuono
text by Christina Santee
How Morgan County High School students and faculty recognized one student among all others—Nicholas Walker—for his random acts and words and of kindness.
If words could describe Morgan County High School special needs student, Nicholas Walker, chances are “inspiring,” “selfless” and “bighearted” would only attempt.
A 16-year-old sophomore, Walker sets the bar for how students should treat one another, as well as the MCHS faculty.
Without doubt, his benevolent demeanor and appreciation for his peers have touched the hearts of all whom he has met. It was only appropriate that the same warmth be repaid to Walker, but in a remarkable fashion.
The idea for his incomparable acknowledgement arose amongst the thoughts of two students, peers of Walker’s who at the time had only witnessed his altruistic nature—juniors Tyler Buckalew, 17, and Jared Needham, 17.
“We see Nick everyday,” Buckalew said. “He’s the first person at lunch, always opening the door and he’s the last one to eat after everyone’s through. Jared [Needham] actually went into the lunch room and he heard Nick tell the lunch lady, ‘Thank you for blessing me with this food,’ and to have a wonderful day and that’s one of the things that sparked it. We already wanted to do something because he’s just a great guy, but that’s what kicked off the idea.”
The two boys had initially intended for a MCHS “Good Dog Deed” award to be presented to Walker, but soon realized they wanted something bigger—something that paralleled Walker’s own thoughtfulness.
“We wanted to recognize Nick Walker for being one of the best people we know,” Buckalew said. “We wanted to give him a personal award—something that would say how good of a person he is.”
After consulting with MCHS’s principal, Mark Wilson, it was decided that a plaque would be specially designed for Walker—but the brainstorming didn’t cease there.
From a spontaneous idea followed plans to organize a special assembly in celebration of Walker. An assembly that would establish a new tradition for the students of MCHS to partake in annually.
“He was gun-ho for it,” Needham said of Wilson’s attitude toward he and Buckalew’s proposal. “He told us, ‘All right, I’m writing y’all a blank check. You design the award and get everything together and we’ll set up a date.’ That was a shock for us. We didn’t know it’d be this full-blown thing. We knew we were going to give him an award, but it kept escalating.”
There’s no question that the students and faculty of MCHS are more like one big family rather than a casual joining of different generations. Some would say it resembles a sanctuary, where things like respect, friendliness and generosity are easily found in astronomical sums.
“They were really trying to give recognition to someone who deserves it,” said Meredith Holloway, special education teacher, regarding Buckalew and Needham. “Nick has just a way about him that really brings out the best in everybody.”
Among the teary-eyed audience were Walker’s proud peers, friends, teachers and mentors, all of whom anxiously awaited his acceptance of the newly established Mr. Morgan County title.
“He has a really good sense of humor,” Holloway said. “He’s positive, he really is sensitive also, to maybe what other people are going through and he takes the time to ask about them and to try and cheer them up. He’s made a difference in the student’s lives here, and not just one—so many. I think the couple of guys [Buckalew and Needham] who wanted to put this on, kind of wanted to lift him up as a role model—that this is how we should all be. What a better community we could all have if everybody had a little bit of Nick in them. He just makes Morgan County High School a better place to be at.”
The kicker? Walker knew nothing of the commendation until the very moment Buckalew and Needham announced his name—accidentally.
“We had never spoke before,” Needham said. “The first thing Tyler said was, ‘Now, I don’t want to give names, but I’ve known Nick...’ I was like, ‘Ah, give me the microphone!’”
When Walker’s full name was finally announced, he couldn’t believe it. “Shocked,” was the word he used to describe his reaction.
“Man, that was a surprise,” Walker said. “It made me feel like there was a light in my heart again. I’ve never gotten recognized. We have a lot of great students in this school and I’m glad. I’ve got great friends.”
Walker’s friends said keeping the award a secret was difficult, but well worth it.
“I was walking with him down to the gym,” said junior Casey Long. “I told him I didn’t know what was going on. I just said someone awesome is going to get recognized, that’s all I really could [tell] him. He kept saying, ‘Come on, man, just tell me, just tell me.’ It was a great surprise.”
Despite Walker’s nervous resistance, Buckalew and Needham had taken every detail into consideration. They wanted Walker’s recognition to be something memorable—a recollection he could cherish for years to come.
“When Nick starting walking up, everyone stood up and started clapping and the chorus started singing,” Needham said. “I was thinking, ‘You know what, he really deserves this.’ I couldn’t find any other one person who deserved that award more than Nick did. We had the cheerleaders go over and get him and the football team make a tunnel and they were just high-fiving him and patting him on the back saying, ‘Good job!’ It was cool.”
The length of the spirited celebration exceeded the original time slot, lasting about an hour and a half. The chorus sang and the band played, while adoring teachers and friends spoke of Walker and the influence he’s had on the MCHS family.
“When we had the recognition for him in the gym, I had asked a question when I was speaking to everyone,” Holloway said. “I said ‘Anyone in here who has ever received a compliment from Nick Walker, please raise your hand.’ Everybody—the entire place, raised their hands. That was just such a great moment because you could physically look around and see how many people he’s impacted.”
Even Darius Weems, esteemed disability rights figure, showed up to personally present the award to Walker.
“[The support] shows me that people really do care,” Needham said. “Nick has made an awesome impact on their lives.”
Buckalew and Needham were astonished by the amount of support they generated to commend Walker for his genuineness. The boys said every individual they encountered thanked them and were more than happy that something was going to take place and that they could be a part of it.
“It [recognition] turned out to be a big thing,” Buckalew said. “We expected it to go somewhere, but we didn’t expect Darius to come or for the entire student body to be there. No one will ever forget it.”
The emotional impact the service had on the audience was only proof of how warm the MCHS family is and how greatly they appreciate Walker.
“During the event I got a text from my buddy saying, ‘Dude, you’re making me look bad, I’m crying in front of my friends,’” Needham laughed.
Only in his second year, Walker looks forward to next year’s tribute. He is curious to see who will be chosen to follow in his [Mr. Morgan County] footsteps.
“I’ve got my eye on whoever gets it,” Walker said. “Every year I should come back and see who it is [that’s celebrated].”
The accomplishment of commending an individual for their heart will be something Buckalew and Needham will never forget. The very act of organizing something for Walker is proof that compliments and good attitudes are passed on through those whom experience them—and remembered, most definitely. Just goes to show that good deeds never go unnoticed.
Printed in the June 9, 2011 edition