Some of the students lingering in the auditorium would be late for their next class, but Principa Theresa Nolan didn't mind.
Several hung back after guest speaker Janet Spencer Barnes concluded her . They wanted to greet Ramos in person.
"They didn't know what to do at the end," Nolan said. "Do you clap? Do you hug? Do you say 'thank you?'
"If they didn't care about the message, trust me, the bell would have rung, they would have gone out the door ... but they didn't. I believe they felt a connection."
It was the first time Barnes formally presented to a group, and she worried she would miss the mark. She couldn't gauge the audience, she said, as the students listened with little audible reaction throughout the presentation on April 20.
But as fiancé Chris Medina wheeled Ramos into the room, the silence grew into a soft applause—and a standing ovation. Ramos loved that, she told her mother afterward.
Medina has shared her story before, when he auditioned for season 10 of American Idol. His appearance landed him a l. Thousands of viewers reached out to Barnes and Ramos with their support and prayers. Some donated and to show their love for the local family.
This time, though, Barnes hoped people would connect with the story in a different way. She stood before a group of young drivers, telling the effects of her daughter's often distracted driving.
Ramos, an graduate, was two months from marrying Medina when her car hydroplaned and crashed into a utility pole near 90th and Pulaski in Hometown. Her blood alcohol content was over the legal limit. She suffered a traumatic brain injury in the crash and now requires constant care.
"I feel a responsibility to take something like this and make something good happen from it," Barnes said. "If maybe one kid comes away and thinks that they can change the course of their life for the better, or if something bad happens—because it will—and if they feel like that something can be turned into something good, then that's great.
"I wanted them to know that life changes a lot."
The accident drastically altered the futures of Ramos and all those around her, Barnes said.
“Before the accident, I was a working mother diagnosing the common cold and flu and nursing aches, pains, fevers and the occasional sports injury,” she told the students. “After the accident, I’ve learned (about) 125 new medicines, 43 new therapies, 31 new doctors, seven surgeries and bobbed and weaved through countless complications.”
Barnes misses the deep connection she felt with her daughter, and Medina longs for the chemistry they shared before the accident. The two have been engaged since December 2007 and have not yet set a wedding date. Though Medina's audition shot him into stardom, including , he still lives with Ramos in her family's Oak Forest home. He accompanies her to therapy and helps with her daily care.
One student expressed his admiration of Medina's devotion.
"It's not really a question, but I just think it's amazing that you stayed with her," the student said.
It was never a question of staying, Medina explained, but one of redeveloping a love and friendship the two nurtured over the course of their nearly decade-long relationship. The, he said, but both he and Ramos need adequate time to recover. The two shared a whisper and a kiss between questions.
"As long as she keeps trying to get better, I'll keep trying to heal and be in this," Medina said. "So the motto is, 'if you try, I'll try.'
"It's pretty incredible what you're able to do if you just give yourself some time to heal."
Students requested an impromptu performance from Medina, who picked up a borrowed guitar and delivered a rendition of The Script's Breakeven—the same song from his Idol audition.
Faculty and staff lauded Barnes for her bravery in sharing the details of her daughter's accident.
"It's a beautiful story, but it's also a sad story," said sophomore Asante Dennis. "And it's a blessing I got to listen to it."