Among the awards and recognition presented to seniors at Lugoff-Elgin High School Thursday was a special honor for one member of the class of 2014.
"He's so humble and he's so sweet to everybody who he meets and he gives a warm smile to everybody and he says 'Hey,'" said Erika Kline, who has known Austin Branham since kindergarten.
Kline graduated from Lugoff-Elgin last year, but came back to school for the special recognition for her best friend and two-time prom date. The pageant queen smiled through her tears.
"I'm so proud of him, and he's just, honestly, he's just so sweet," she said. "He's a good boy."
Branham won the school's Mr. Congeniality award for four straight years, and Thursday the school announced the award would bear his name from now on.
"His impact goes out and touches every student that walks through these halls," said yearbook and school newspaper advisor Shannon Team. "I think it's important for us to do this as a way to help everybody remember those qualities that he's contributed to this school and to embody those qualities as well."
Although Branham's mother knew the honor was coming, her emotions broke out when his name was announced and the packed gymnasium broke into cheers.
""I knew that people loved him and I knew that he was very popular with the kids," said Stacy Branham. "When he first came to high school I was worried that he would be treated different because, you know, of his disability. That was shot down very quickly. If anything, he's treated with love and respect."
"It feels good," said Austin of the honor. "I was thinking that it felt good. That's how I felt. It felt good to be Mr. Congeniality."
"He wanted a trophy so bad," said his mother. "Every year he's gotten a banner and he's always wanted a trophy. He is on cloud nine. He is truly a happy, happy boy today."
"Every kid that he comes in contact with is better for having known him and having met him," said Team. "He makes friends so easily and everybody in this school loves him."
Austin's mother said she's proud of the way her son has touched the Lugoff-Elgin community.
"Look beyond their disability and look for their capability," she said. "It's in there. Don't judge a book by its cover. If people were to judge him by his cover, they would not see what he has. Something is in there that is special in each and every person."
"It makes me feel good," said Austin. "I put a smile on everybody's face and that makes me happy."
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