Being named prom king is the ultimate statement of teen popularity, often the peak of high school for kids who are crowned.

When Shaun Mabanta, 18, found out he was on the prom court — one of four seniors on the ballot at Liberty High School near Las Vegas — he immediately went to the prom committee and asked to be taken off. Mabanta instead wanted his friend Edgar Hernandez to take his place.

Hernandez, 18, who has autism, accepted. The two had become good friends, and Mabanta thought Hernandez should have a shot at winning it.

“He puts himself out there so much,” Mabanta said of Hernandez, adding that Hernandez walks around to each table at lunchtime and says hello to everyone. “I wanted him to win from the beginning.”

The prom committee agreed, and Mabanta started a campaign. On Instagram and Snapchat he told his followers: “Edgar for Prom King!”

The school vote was March 15, a day ahead of the prom dance — where the winner would be announced.

The suspense of who would be named was the buzz of the school as students waited for the big night to arrive.

Mabanta, who waged a vigorous push for Hernandez to win, said he in part gave up his spot to his friend because he understands what it’s like to feel different. When Mabanta was in eighth grade, he said, he would spend hours each day sitting alone feeling invisible and anxious. Some friends finally reached out to him.

“It came to the point where they asked the counselor to check up on me and called my parents and recommended me for therapy,” he said.

When he got to high school, Mabanta said, he started feeling better about himself when he began to do kind things for other people — holding doors, saying hi to someone who looked alone. He even started a kindness club. He slowly gained his confidence and became a leader on the student council and within the school community.

“When he was a freshman, he had a hard time speaking in front of the class,” said one of his teachers, Ashlee VanEss. “Now he’s the man. Everybody looks up to Shaun and wants to be Shaun.”

Last year, Hernandez became part of the student council. Initially, he and Mabanta just said hello to each other, but Mabanta said he soon noticed Hernandez was working on his conversation skills. They started chatting about music and other topics.

“Edgar has been practicing and practicing,” Mabanta said. “It makes me think there’s nothing impossible in this life.”

On prom night, March 16, Mabanta said he and his date arrived a little late, and when they walked in, the prom king and queen were being announced. He held his breath.

The announcer said: Edgar Hernandez!


Edgar Hernandez and Shaun Mabanta at prom on March 16 (Ashlee VanEss)

The new prom king accepted his crown and covered his face as he became emotional. He touched the crown and looked around the room, thrilled, in disbelief. His peers cheered and chanted “Edgar! Edgar!”

“I was excited, happy,” Hernandez said in a phone interview with The Washington Post on Monday. “Excited, cried.”

Mabanta, too, was overcome with happiness.

“I was tearing up,” he said.

Hernandez then danced with prom queen Taylor Covert — and even twirled her.

“I love it,” Hernandez said about the dance.

Mabanta and his teacher, VanEss, used the same word to describe the night: magical.

Mabanta said things got even better last week, when Hernandez wore his gold crown to school — and students gave him fist bumps and high-fives as they passed him in the hallway.


Edgar Hernandez and Shaun Mabanta at school the week after prom, when Hernandez wore his crown to school. (Ashlee VanEss)

Hernandez said he’s grateful for his friendship with Mabanta. And he really likes wearing his crown.

“He’s a good friend,” Hernandez said. “I felt special.”