By Rick Hynum

As the 2023 school year wrapped up at Ocean Springs High School in Ocean Springs, Mississippi, freshman Wes Besancon made a heartbreaking discovery: No one wanted to sign his yearbook.

It’s a troubling truism: Some kids can be cruel. Fortunately, there are also big-hearted grown-ups like Eric Braden, general manager of the Lost Pizza location in Ocean Springs. Now, thanks to a unique annual event hosted by Braden, Wes’s yearbook gets packed with warm wishes scribbled out by dozens of his school mates and local adults alike, from cheerleaders to first responders and sports figures living in the Mississippi Gulf Coast region.

Braden hosted a yearbook signing party for Wes—the second in two years—on May 21, 2024, at Lost Pizza. Both Braden and Wes hope to make it a tradition that continues long after the latter graduates. After all, Wes won’t be the only high schooler who struggles to make friends in the years to come.

It all started last year with a Facebook post from Wes’s mother, Lisa Besancon. When Wes came home after school that day, she lamented, he asked his mom, “Why wouldn’t anyone sign my yearbook?”

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“There were a lot of tears tonight,” Lisa wrote. “Thank goodness high school doesn’t last forever.”

Members of the Gulf Coast Wrestling Association dropped by to sign Wes’s yearbook at Lost Pizza’s second annual event.

Wes is on the autism spectrum. As his mother explained in the Facebook post, “He is trying to navigate a life where socializing dominates the day. He has tried different things just to get other children his age to talk to him. Some have completely been off the mark and against his better judgment—but he is trying to find a connection. Any connection. He just wants to make friends.”

When his classmates refused to sign his yearbook, Wes told WLOX, “It didn’t make me feel good. It made me a little upset.”

Braden stepped in after learning about Lisa’s Facebook post. Noting that no child should ever have to wonder why he couldn’t get his yearbook signed, “We knew that we had to do something,” Braden said.

To make a difference in this one boy’s life, Braden threw a yearbook signing party for Wes, called the “School Is Out for Summer Yearbook Signing Party,” on the evening of May 24, 2023. And the turnout was spectacular, from Wes’s schoolmates to folks of all ages throughout Ocean Springs, a small yet bustling town on the Mississippi Gulf Coast.

“It was an amazing day for this young man as well as many other people in our community,” Braden told PMQ at the time. He added that “at least 150 to 200 people” poured in to sign the yearbook and take part in the festivities.

this photo shows two pages of Wes's yearbook with at least two dozen signatures
Lost Pizza Ocean Springs

Wes was so delighted by the turnout, Braden promised to do it again this year—and kept the promise. Once again, Braden set Wes up at a table in the restaurant, and kids and grownups alike filed by to sign his yearbook. By the end of the evening, there was little space left in the yearbook for more signatures.

One of the 2023 messages reads, “Thank you for always being yourself. You have made an impact on me, teaching me to not let anyone tell me who I can be or not. Love you always! Gonna miss you when I’m gone!” Another signed, “You are so strong and powerful, don’t let nobody steal your shine!”

Ocean Springs high schooler Allison Miller signed Wes’s yearbook, too, and told WLOX, “He’s so kind to everybody. That should be reflected onto him. Nobody should feel left out or excluded on anything like that.”

For 2024, Braden gave the event a new name, the “Hello Summer Yearbook Signing Party,” but the results were the same. “We had the Ocean Springs Fire Department pull up with their truck and let the kids tour the rig,” Braden said. “The cheerleading team showed up in full force along with Hook, the Mississippi Seawolves hockey team mascot, and [hockey] player Hugo Koch and two wrestlers from the Gulf Coast Wrestling Association.”

Not only has the Lost Pizza event helped Wes make new friends, it brings the community together for an uplifting three hours that has likely renewed many attendees’ faith in their fellow human beings. And it almost certainly earned some new customers for Braden’s shop.

“Wes even asked if he could continue to do this until he graduates,” Braden said. “I said, absolutely, but before graduating, he needs to pass the baton to a worthy co-host!”

This story has been updated from a 2023 post with new material related to the 2024 yearbook signing party.

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