We have enough bad things happening in the world, so let’s take one of them and turn it into a good thing.
Akalis Castejon, an 11-year-old with autism, is a fifth grader at Bailly Preparatory Academy in Gary. He became part of a national news story this week after a special education teacher at a school award ceremony gave him a trophy labeled “MOST ANNOYING MALE.”
That is, objectively, horrible. And the Gary Community School Corp. seems to have responded appropriately by swiftly apologizing to the family and promising disciplinary action against the teacher.
I don’t know what that teacher was thinking, nor do I care.
What I care about is Akalis. So I spoke with the boy’s father, Rick Castejon, and learned a little more about the 11-year-old.
Castejon, a motorcycle mechanic, said Akalis is mechanically inclined and regularly watches him working on bikes, always the eager assistant. His son loves four-wheelers and go-karts, and has proven himself a skilled rider of both.
Akalis collects and plays with Thomas the Tank Engine toy trains and enjoys making videos of his trains and posting them on YouTube.
He craves chicken nuggets. And ice cream sandwiches.
His favorite movie is the 2005 computer-animated Disney film “Chicken Little.”
Akalis is nonverbal and can get upset when he has to perform certain tasks or when he has difficulty communicating. But Castejon is proud of the progress his son has made both in school and at home.
“He’s just a kid and he wants to have a good time,” Castejon said. “He just wants to be treated like everybody else.”
Akalis didn’t understand that the award he was given was a cruel joke. He was excited to get a trophy, like the other kids at the ceremony.
“I’m kind of glad that he didn’t understand,” Castejon said.
He also hopes people learn something from what happened to his son.
“I’m not going to be around forever to take care of him,” Castejon said. “I want things to be better for him.”
I do too. Akalis didn’t deserve the mean-spirited award he received.
I can’t fix that, but I thought perhaps I could offer him a proper award.
So I’m using this column to formally announce that Akalis Castejon of Gary will be receiving my 2019 Outstanding Person Award for his good cheer and for lifting up those around him.
A formal award certificate, suitable for framing (or at least for hanging on the refrigerator), will be mailed to the Castejon home. While it’s me handing out the award, I firmly believe people throughout Chicago and northwest Indiana and across the country join me in honoring Akalis.
You deserve it, Akalis. Just as you deserve a world that’s fair and kind and just.