When Paula and Kevin Burckard’s third child was born, she arrived with a little something extra the North Dakota couple never saw coming. 

Newborn Grace had Down syndrome, and the diagnosis initially left the young parents devastated.

“When Grace was born, I thought all my dreams for my daughter had basically been dashed,” Paula said. 

But it didn’t take long for those fears to subside. 

As Grace grew, not only did she meet and surpass milestones, her infectious joy, inspirational grit, and deep love of all things Michael Jackson transformed the family—and countless hearts. The Burckhards went on to adopt three children internationally, all with Down syndrome, and are tireless ambassadors for special needs families and causes in their community. 

This week, any lingering doubts about hopes being realized had their turn to be dashed. 

Grace was crowned Homecoming Queen at Minot High School, alongside King Micah Carter, in front of hundreds of adoring students, teachers, family and friends who have embraced, included and nurtured the teenager in a way that brings her mother and father to tears. 

Video of her crowning moment has been shared hundreds of times on Facebook, and it’s easy to see why: 

We are overwhelmed with emotion and gratitude for this momentous event that happened today…Grace was chosen by her school to represent them as their Homecoming Queen. The king is Micah Carter…(who earlier in the week asked to take her to a movie on Sunday) This honor is a dream come true for parents with children with disabilities, not only the Queen part, but mostly to be included! Way to show up, Magicians…you worked a special kind of magic today! With love & gratitude, your friend Grace’s parents! Oh, and I wish I knew who that guy was who was crying so loudly in the video! 😂

Posted by Paula Herslip Burckhard on Thursday, September 27, 2018

Making this moment even more special? Paula was Homecoming Queen herself, at the very same school, 37 years ago. A circle coming full, in the most serendipitous of ways, made possible by acceptance, inclusion, and what the Burckhards call “a group of outstanding young people”. 

Kevin summed it up in a Facebook post just before Grace’s coronation:

“When the doctor first placed Grace in our arms, we felt so unsure about her future, but we clung to the promise of the name God gave us just days after we found out we were expecting a third child. We already had a beautiful girl, Elizabeth, and a handsome boy, Sam. This third child was a bonus, so we chose the name Grace, which means “a blessing given, undeserved”. Initially, we did not feel Grace was a blessing. Will she have a happy life? Will she have a best friend? Any friends? Will people gawk at her when they see her? This morning, I am reminded by her picture in our local Minot Daily newspaper, with her “friends” on the Minot High homecoming court, God is faithful. He had a better plan for us than we did for ourselves. He gave us “beauty for ashes.” He gave us His Grace.”

And isn’t she lovely! 

Carolyn Moore

Carolyn traded a career in local TV news for a gig as a stay-at-home mom, where the days are just as busy and the pay is only slightly worse. She lives in flyover country with her husband and four young kids, and occasionally writes about raising them at Assignment Mom