- Associated Press - Friday, May 16, 2014

PITTSBURG, Kan. (AP) - The night before Bryce Commons started high school, his mother got no sleep.

“When I walked him in the first day, my stomach was churning,” she said. “Would he be picked on? Would people make fun of him?”

A lot has happened in four years.

On May 17, he will graduate - a milestone that at one time was nearly inconceivable: When he was 3 years old, doctors diagnosed him with severe autism and told his parents, Mandy and Chad Commons, he’d never progress beyond the abilities of a 4-year-old.

It’s been a difficult road filled with potholes, his mother said. Some years have been better than others. But what has endured since that first day at Pittsburg High School has been the support, acceptance and friendship of students and staff members.

“Every day - and I kid you not - on Facebook I see at least one post or news article, if not more, where an autistic child is bullied, beaten up or worse at their school,” Mandy Commons said.

By contrast, last fall the student body at Pittsburg High School elected Bryce the football homecoming king. It wasn’t a joke, his mother noted.

“They were completely serious,” she said.

For three years, he has served as the beloved Purple Dragon mascot at football and basketball games.

And just a month before graduation, when most students are dreaming of summer vacation and seniors are busy applying to colleges and lining up jobs, they began a project in further support of Bryce. They call it “Project Dream.”

The goal: create enough buzz via social media to bring about a meeting between Bryce and American actress and singer Selena Gomez, whom he loves.

It was the brainchild of Sarah Jewett, a senior who befriended Bryce in Sophomore Focus class.

“Then we were in homecoming court together this year, and we started saying hello’ in the hallways, and he called me his best friend. He made me things for my locker and my fridge - he’s very artistic,” Jewett said.

In April, Jewett was in the cast of “Snowflakes,” a play by the high school theater department about accepting others with differences, including autism. A video of Bryce in his room, covered with photos of Selena, opened each performance.

“His front door has a sign he made himself that says, Selena Gomez stop here,’” Jewett said. “I just thought how cool it would be for him to get to meet her.”

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