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Autistic salutatorian lays out God-given purpose

Special Photo 
In spite of his autism, Jonathan Hicks (center) graduated salutatorian from Bible Baptist Christian School in Hampton. Hicks surprised the audience during his graduation address by acknowledging the presence of his preschool assistant teacher Nancy Flynn (left) and teacher Anne Weikel (right). The women taught at Sweetwater Elementary School in Port Orange, Fla., where Hicks attended after being diagnosed with autism. He transferred to Bible Baptist in fourth grade.

Special Photo In spite of his autism, Jonathan Hicks (center) graduated salutatorian from Bible Baptist Christian School in Hampton. Hicks surprised the audience during his graduation address by acknowledging the presence of his preschool assistant teacher Nancy Flynn (left) and teacher Anne Weikel (right). The women taught at Sweetwater Elementary School in Port Orange, Fla., where Hicks attended after being diagnosed with autism. He transferred to Bible Baptist in fourth grade.

Jonathan Hicks addressed his peers and invited guests during commencement ceremonies at Bible Baptist Christian School in Hampton. He was salutatorian of the school’s graduating Class of 2012.

Hicks, 19, lent words of encouragement to his peers, and recognized those who helped him along the way. As he spoke in a deep, measured voice, he acknowledged the presence of his pre-school teacher, Anne Weikel, and her assistant teacher, Nancy Flynn.

“On my third birthday, I entered Miss Anne Weikel’s Pre-K class in Port Orange, Fla.,” Hicks recalled. “Miss Weikel was different on purpose, because she taught children with special needs like me.”

Hicks, who was second in a senior class of 10 at the private Christian school, said he was diagnosed with autism at the age of 2.

“[Miss Weikel] is an example of Leviticus 19:18,” he said. “ ‘Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.’ I do not think I would be standing here speaking to you today, if it were not for her willingness to work with children with special needs.” Weikel and Flynn were invited as special guests at commencement services.

Hicks said he has faced head-on whatever challenges have arisen due to his autism, which he says are few.

“I don’t really think I have any challenges yet,” said Hicks, crediting his higher power. “It’s help from the Lord. Trust in the Lord, and He will take care of you.”

Hicks has plans to attend Pensacola Christian College, in Pensacola, Fla., this fall. He said he may major in history, or Bible.

The new graduate said he has reservations about leaving his friends, “but I’m sure I’ll make some new friends at the college.”

His parents, Patti and Gary Hicks, said they are anxious as well.

“I’m a little bit scared, but we think it will be a good experience for him,” said his mother. “It’s just amazing how God worked in his life to help him get through. I’m just very proud.”

Hicks, who has spent his high school years playing trombone and piano in the school band, and singing the school choir, plans to continue his music in college.

“I would describe myself as always trying my best, and hard-working,” Hicks said. “They treated me very well at Bible Baptist.

“God made everyone different,” continued the teenager. “God wants us to be different on purpose.”

Hicks repeated the adage to his peers, and their guests, during commencement services.

“God made us all different; schools are different; and people in the Bible were different on purpose,” he said. “We are to be different on purpose to glorify God. I would like to challenge you, the Class of 2012, and the remaining students of Bible Baptist, to be different on purpose for God’s glory.”