The light rain that continues to keep Bostonâ€™s summer at a distance failed to deter Mayor Tom Menino and over 250 students, teachers, and community members from coming together this Tuesday on the courtyard of Patrick Oâ€™Hearn Elementary School to honor Dr. William Henderson. Seemingly unencumbered by his own blindness, the 59 year-old principal has been a pioneer for the inclusion of students with disabilities into traditional classrooms. Over the past 20 years, Henderson has transformed the Oâ€™Hearn into a national model for a more inclusive education system.
For more on the legacy of Henderson at the school, see this April 30, 2009 story by Adam Pieniezak.
Now, on the eve of his retirement, his school and community have honored him with a strong gesture. Calling him â€œa remarkable manâ€ who has made â€œan indelible impactâ€ in the lives of Bostonâ€™s students, the Mayor proclaimed June 23rd William Henderson day in the city of Boston and renamed the school after him.
The tribute, which had been in the works since September, was kept secret from Henderson, even as the School Committee conducted public hearings and voted on the name change. â€œI had an inkling,â€ Henderson admits, though he wasnâ€™t fully aware of the scope of the event.
The excitement about participating in a secret of this dimension, however well kept, was palpable amongst the schoolâ€™s students. Donned in brand new William W. Henderson Inclusion Elementary School t-shirts, the students conducted most of the ceremony, introducing speakers and providing dance, music, as well as a narration of Hendersonâ€™s inspiring life story. The schoolâ€™s philosophy of inclusion was evident as students with a wide range of abilities presented and performed side by side.
City Councillor Maureen Feeney joined the Mayor and a student in unveiling the new welcome sign to be placed at the front of the school. Also unveiled was the plaque for the newly named Patrick Oâ€™Hearn foyer, commemorating the banker and Bostonâ€™s building commissioner in whose honor the school had hitherto been named.
At the end of the ceremony, Henderson said that he was â€œhonored and humbledâ€ before handing the â€œbaton of leadership,â€ his white walking stick, to Patricia Lampron, his successor. Together, they then cut the red ribbon, officially opening a new chapter in a school that has already touched so many lives.