Every school day, after he’s finished eating, Noah Otto spends the remainder of his lunch period holding doors open for students at Tumwater High School.
It’s a time for high-fives, fist bumps and smiles — amid a constant chorus of “Hi Noah.”
“I don’t know why everyone knows who I am,” said Otto, shaking his head and laughing, while on door duty earlier this week.
The 18-year-old is one of four seniors at the school nominated for homecoming king. Tumwater Principal Jeff Broome said he believes it’s the first time in the school’s history that a Life Skills student has been nominated for the royal court. Life Skills is a program that helps special-education students prepare for life after school, focusing on job readiness and independent living skills.
“It shows the compassion of this class, and the heart,” Broome said. “They’re a very giving class, and we’ve got strong student leaders.”
Otto was born nearly two months premature, and suffered a brain bleed, said his mother, Michele Otto. As a result, he has some physical and learning disabilities, particularly ones that involve reading, vocabulary and speech.
But Michele Otto said she wasn’t surprised her son was nominated for homecoming king.
“The way we’ve raised him is to not feel sorry for yourself and do what you can do,” she said. “I know a lot of the kids really like him. He’s a great kid.”
Otto said his favorite part of school is helping with the recycling program. He also competes in several events for the school’s track team and is part of its Christian club, Souled Out.
“Everyone loves him,” said freshman Kaylin Garcia, 14. “He’s really nice to everyone.”
After he graduates from high school, Otto said he wants to work at his parents’ u-pick blueberry farm in the Littlerock area.
He said he’s excited about the homecoming game, but he’s nervous, too.
Tumwater High student body President Seth Stauffer, 17, said Otto has been talking “nonstop” about Friday’s homecoming game against Yakima’s West Valley High School, which is when the homecoming coronation will take place.
Stauffer said Otto told him that he wants to win, but he also wants to lose because he knows he’ll feel bad for the boys who aren’t chosen as king.
“That’s him too — he’s thoughtful,” Stauffer said.
Ninth-grader Lauren Ruiz, 14, described Otto as “inspirational.” She said he goes out of his way to be nice to everybody, and that he always tries to cheer people up if they’re having a bad day.
“A lot of people really look up to him,” Ruiz said. “I know I do.”