At Edgewood High School's commencement exercises, John H. Hudson Jr. was among the average graduates.
"I feel I'm no different, and they feel the same way," John said on one of the last days of class.
The 17-year-old Edgewood resident finished school with a B average. He plans to attend Harford Community College in the fall. He's not sure yet what his major will be, but he would like to work with computers some day.
He played The Reverend in a recent school production of "Hillbilly Wedding." He likes country music, and two or three times a week, he shops at his favorite country-western clothing store in Bel Air.
Not much to set him apart from the county's 2,000 or so other graduates. And John likes it that way.
Since kindergarten, he has bucked attempts to make him anything other than average.
John was born without arms, with only half his right leg and with his left foot attached to his hip.
"I feel I'm not disabled," he said last week. "I feel I can do anything everybody else does."
He attended kindergarten at John Archer, Harford County's special education school, "but they decided I was too smart for them," he said. So he has been attending public schools without the special education designation since then.
After middle school, he outgrew the adult attendant helping him get through the school day. "When I came to the high school, I decided I really didn't need that," he said. "I felt more independent than that."
And he has proved his point.
Independence pays off
"He knows everything there is to know about the layout of the school," said Maria Blackburn, Edgewood's guidance secretary. It's a knowledge he acquired working as an aide for the guidance and front offices.
On one of his last days as an aide last week, John made a quick round of the school, delivering pink detention slips to teachers.
Dressed in a stars-and-stripes shirt and jeans, John used his bare foot to maneuver his motorized chair around the hallways, carrying the pink slips on a desklike tray attached to his chair.
"Sometimes my friends and family forget about the way I am," he said. "I even forget sometimes. I'm so used to being with everybody else."
Attitude is everything
"He brings to school an attitude that he can do; he can compensate; he can be successful," said Edgewood Principal Robert C. Williams, who was also John's middle school principal. "He wasn't born with all the advantages of some of the other kids, but he demonstrates to the other students that he can be successful."
John was among 155 Edgewood students who graduated Friday evening.