December 4, 2021

Student Body Right: Young Lady with Autism Voted as Heard County Homecoming Queen

(Franklin, GA) — Jessica Kirkpatrick may be a little different from her classmates, but that hasn’t kept her from receiving the royal treatment this week after being nominated and then selected by her classmates to be a part of Heard County High School’s Homecoming Court.

The senior ended her special week with a bang after the Heard County High School student body voted her as the school’s 2018 Homecoming Queen.

Jessica has Autism, a genetic condition that can cause a range of developmental problems affecting communication and social interaction.

She has struggled socially at times during her school years and was even homeschooled for one year during middle school before returning to HCMS in the 8th grade.

Jessica has made great strides during her time at Heard High School thanks primarily to a large group of accepting classmates, faculty members, and other staff who are some of her biggest fans and supporters.

The 18-year-old says she was surprised to hear her name during the announcements of the homecoming court on September 7.

“I didn’t even campaign so I don’t understand how I got to be on the Homecoming Court,” Jessica told her mom, Shelly Hester.

Her name was placed on the ballot of potential nominees by her close friend since elementary school, Rickyeria Phillips. Jessica counts a long list of students as her friends and supporters although she says she doesn’t really like to pick favorites.

“I don’t like picking favorites because there are a lot of cool people at Heard County High School but those I am closest to are Rickeyria, PJ Cofield and Andrew Leak,” says Jessica. “Many others have been supportive of me — even if I have not recognized it without seriously thinking about it. Some I can name off the top of my head are Kiya Ramos, Juliannne Carpenter, Kaitlin Schwarzburg, Beth Taylor, Kristianne Culpepper, Samantha Minix and Taylor Caito.”

Jessica Kirkpatrick (R) was crowned Heard County’s 2018 Homecoming Queen by her friend and 2017 Queen Alexis Nelms Friday night in Franklin

Jessica says she also had many good friends that graduated last spring.

“I really miss my friends who graduated last year, too. They made high school more fun for me. Alexis Nelms, Sage Kelley, Mattie Noojin, Neely Culpepper and Amiah Person were really cool and nice people.”

Very fittingly, it was of those Class of 2018 graduates, Alexis Nelms that placed the crown on her head Friday night.

Jessica’s small army of supporters doesn’t stop with just the students. She says that her high school experience has been positive because of faculty and staff as well.

“Mrs. Jessica Adams, Mrs. Lori Cabe, Mrs. Mary Davis, Coach Kyle Yates, Coach Shane Lasseter, Mr. Lance Taylor and Mr. Brady Tillman have all been good to me,” says Jessica.

“I also really miss Mrs. Laura Barido. She moved away but she was really funny and nice — and I really miss Coach Bobby Cothran too. He was my advisement teacher for three years and my World History teacher.”

Heard County Athletic Director Shane Lasseter says Jessica should be an example to every freshman that may struggle to adapt in the first year of high school.

“Jessica has probably made one of the top five biggest transformations I have seen in my years here at Heard High — she’s gone from being a shy and bashful 9th grader to an outspoken and confident senior,” says Lasseter. “I am very proud of her and hopes she enjoyed everything about this Homecoming week.”

Another group of people who are very special to Jessica is the cafeteria staff.

“I love the staff who work in our cafeteria. They are always nice to me and talk to me,” Jessica says. “They even gave me a goodie bag for my birthday last year because my birthday falls right after the last day of school.”

Jessica faces many challenges as an autistic student in a public school and situations have not always been ideal for her.

“Some of my challenges were my stimming getting in the way of doing tasks like schoolwork, leaving class, walking to class, going to eat lunch/breakfast and going to the restroom. Simply going from place to place, especially if it was across campus or not being able to go through a certain doorway that I needed to go through would completely throw me off,” says Jessica.

Self-stimulatory behavior, also known as stimming and self-stimulation, is the repetition of physical movements, sounds, or words, or the repetitive movement of objects common in individuals with developmental disabilities and most prevalent in people with autism spectrum disorders.

“Another challenge for me was feeling socially and academically withdrawn. My intentions and words would be misinterpreted by some people which resulted in drama and almost turned into physical altercations a few times. I also had trouble dating because I don’t know how to handle crushes,” she says.

“I faced a lot of rejection and never got to go on dates like other kids my age. I have also struggled with learning to drive because of sensory issues. I have been trying to learn for the past few years.”

Despite her many challenges, Jessica says that she is thankful for some very special times at HCHS.

“All struggles aside, my most rewarding experience is having people accept me despite a number of my differences along with being autistic. I’m glad to be graduating from the same school system I’ve attended all of my life. Last but not least, I’m happy to have been nominated to be on the Homecoming Court. It’s made me feel much more accepted than I thought I was.”

Of all the pageantry involved with being on the Homecoming Court, Jessica earlier this week said she was most looking forward to the Brave football game.

“I always look most forward to game night because I like football. I don’t get to go to all the games like I wish I could but I do love watching the Braves play,” she says.

Following graduation next spring, Jessica wants to get a certificate in Photoshop and work in a field where she can use that skill.

Her mother says that Rickeyria Phillips has been an amazing advocate and supporter of her daughter through all of her school years.

“In the past, when Jessica started getting really depressed and having problems at school, I was beside myself with worry and pain in my heart,” says Shelly Hester.

“I messaged Rickeyria to ask how I could make things better for Jessica at school. Was there something I could help Jessica do to make more friends? Rickeyria told me that I was a good mom and Jessica was one of a kind. She said kids in high school always fall in line with everyone else and never express different views or opinions, out of fear of being outcasts. She said Jessica has no fear of that and she found that to be one of Jessica’s best qualities. She told me not to worry and she would always make sure no one messed with Jessica.”

Jessica’s mom says overall, her daughter’s high school experience has been her best yet.

“Jessica has definitely grown into herself and is making more and more friends. Her high school experience has been the best school experience for her so far. I’m so happy students and staff are reaching out to her,” Shelly says. “She told me other kids tell her she is funny and they laugh at the things she says. There was a time when that would have been an impossible situation. She used to scream when anyone laughed at something she said, even me. She has now learned the difference between laughing “with” someone and laughing “at” them.”

Jessica, who was escorted during the ceremony by her step father, Larry Sockwell, expressed a special thank you to all of those people that made her senior homecoming week so memorable.

“I know that my name was put on the homecoming ballot by Rickeyria Philips for every year in high school, but I never would’ve guessed in a million years that I would even be nominated on the Homecoming Court — never mind win Homecoming Queen. I have had people telling me that they are going to or have voted for me as well as telling they know I am going to win. This whole week, the announcement that I was on the Homecoming court, along with the moment I heard my name being announced as Homecoming Queen was all very surreal to me,” Jessica said after the game Friday night.

“Right before they announced Homecoming Queen, my mind was blank, I was staring into space, and I had butterflies in my stomach. When they announced it, that feeling increased. I want to take this opportunity to thank each and every single individual who has congratulated me, voted for me, rooted for me, and supported me on Facebook and in real life in every step of the way, because there’s too many comments and statuses on Facebook to go through all of them and thank each of them individually.”


  1. Samantha Harmon says

    Love my little cousin Jessica to the moon and back and a million times more than I can say even in words. I would like to thank all her classmates for making her feel as special as she truly is.

  2. Stacey Holden says

    This story brought tears to my eyes.. it was so sweet and I’m so happy for her!! It is so touching to read something that is so uplifting and positive it really restores my faith in humanity God bless you all.. sincerely Stacy Holden


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