Debutante smiles shone at biennial ball

Angela Whalen watched with pride as her son made his way to the front of the room for a photograph with his schoolmates. 

All seventeen of the Bendigo Special Developmental School students were dressed to impress – the boys in their suits and bow ties, the girls in stunning gowns. 

“They just look so different,” Ms Whalen said.

Friday night marked the school’s third debutante ball, celebrated at the All Seasons Hotel in Bendigo.

Family, friends and school staff donned their best suits and dresses to see the teenagers make their debut into society.

Mitchell Hillman, Ms Whalen’s 17-year-old son, was the first of his siblings to follow in her footsteps and become a debutante.

“It’s great they can do it with all their friends,” Ms Whalen said. 

She praised the inclusive nature of the event. 

“Even though you’re in a wheelchair, you can still come and do your deb.”

Mitchell wore a precious family heirloom and his favourite dress rings in honour of the event. 

He was hopeful for an opportunity to sing his favourite song, Stevie Wonder’s Superstition, at some point during the evening. 

Minutes out from the presentation ceremony, Bendigo Special Developmental School leading teacher Rosie Critchley was preparing to introduce the students and their partners to the event’s special guest, Bendigo Mayor Rod Fyffe.

In her hand was a black clipboard detailing the students’ interests and aspirations.

She doubted there’d be a dry eye in the room when they were read out.  

“We’re absolutely thrilled,” Mrs Critchley said. 

Later Years Unit Coordinator Kirsty Phillips was thrilled by the community interest in the event, believing it would promote further inclusiveness for people with a disability.

A live broadcast of the presentations, on the Bendigo Advertiser’s Facebook page, garnered more than 100 likes within minutes. 

“I feel super proud, seeing them all dressed up like this,” Ms Phillips said. 

In addition to being a celebration, she said preparing for the event had been a learning opportunity for many of the students.

She said they had improved skills such as patience and following instructions.

“This is just fantastic to see,” Mr Fyffe said, after joining in dancing to the YMCA song.

“It’s an absolute privilege and joy to be here.”

Bendigo Special Developmental School has held a debutante ball every two years since 2012.

Dancing, singing highlights

All seventeen Bendigo Special Developmental School students were in agreement.

The highlights of their debutante ball were the singing and dancing. 

For two terms, they had been rehearsing for Friday night’s event. 

Their efforts were rewarded with tears of joy and ear-to-ear grins from the more than 200 guests, who joined them in dancing to the YMCA.

Debutante Bradley Barnes didn’t hold back when the Justin Timberlake hit, Can’t Stop the Feeling, was played. 

His twin sister and debut partner, Brooke Barnes, was thrilled to see him so happy.

The Barnes siblings were one of two pairs of twins making their debut at the evening.

Thomas Coverdale was presented on the arm of his twin Georgia.

“My favourite part is the dancing with my sister,” Thomas said. 

Mathias Wagland was sporting a stylish jacket with coat tails, and made his debut with friend Zabrina Ross.