As the 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: 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 event hosted by Braden, Wes’s yearbook is packed with warm wishes scribbled out by dozens of his school mates and local adults alike.
It all started 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?”
“There were a lot of tears tonight,” Lisa wrote. “Thank goodness high school doesn’t last forever.”
Wes is on the autism spectrum, according to WLOX. 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 at the Lost Pizza store. The event, called the “School Is Out for Summer Yearbook Signing Party,” took place from 5-8 p.m. on Wednesday, May 24. 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. “There were at least 150 to 200 people, total, throughout the three-hour event. We had local celebrity guests come out for the signing, such as Hook, our local Seawolves hockey team mascot, Sparkle, one of our local high school mascots, Cali Rob, an amazing local artist, as well as a huge number of families, teachers, students and folks that didn’t even know what was going on that day!”
Braden set Wes up at a table in the restaurant, and kids and grownups alike filed by to sign his yearbook. Photos from the event show a beaming Wes posing with a bevy of new pals, from cheerleaders and mascots to police officers, parents and children of all ages.
By the end of the evening, there was little space left in the yearbook for more signatures. One of them 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.”
Not only did the Lost Pizza event help Wes make new friends, it brought the community together for an uplifting three hours that likely renewed many attendees’ faith in their fellow human beings. And it almost certainly earned some new customers for Braden’s shop.
It was so successful, in fact, that Braden told PMQ he wants to do it again next year. “We have made the decision that this will be an annual event that Wes will co-host with us!”