During a recent first-hour career exploration class, Jenison High School senior Kate Veldink was shocked to hear her name announced over the school intercom as one of the finalists for homecoming court.
“I didn’t know how to react at first,” the 17-year-old said on Tuesday, Oct. 13. “Then a couple seconds later it kind of settled in and I was super happy.”
Veldink, who has a rare genetic disorder called ataxia-telangiectasia, was caught in disbelief a second time when she was crowned Homecoming Queen during the football game’s halftime festivities earlier this month.
“It was awesome,” Veldink said. “I never expected to ever have that experience.”
But the surprise didn’t stop there. Her friends and classmates are reaching out to Ellen DeGeneres in hope that the celebrity will feature Veldink and her story on her nationally syndicated television show, “The Ellen Show.”
“I think that Kate is a person who people can look up to and can learn from her,” said Veldink’s longtime friend, Maddy Maurice. “She looks at life with such a unique perspective and brings humor into some of the hardest times.”
Veldink and Maurice, 17, have been friends since they were 5 years old. Late last week, Maurice started a hashtag trend on social media among her classmates —#KateVeldinkOnEllen – which has spread throughout the school and now the Jenison community.
“It made me feel happy and proud that we live in a community like Jenison where we really recognize who you are on the inside that counts — a disability doesn’t define you,” Maurice said. “Knowing Kate my entire life, I think she deserved it (Homecoming Queen) because she’s one of the best people I know.”