Finding out you have won enough votes to be the Homecoming Chief or Princess at Florida State University must be a life-changer. As the winner, you have so many events to look forward to: riding in the parade as “royalty,” being presented to the crowd at the Pow Wow event the night before the game, the Homecoming Breakfast, and the crowning at midfield during the Homecoming Game while being presented with your Court.
The One Exception
Seventeen-year-old William Wade ran for Homecoming Princess on a whim in 1980. To qualify, a candidate had to be an FSU junior or senior and have a 3.0 grade point average. He was a junior (he had entered FSU having completed two years of college-level academic work) and he had a perfect GPA.
Much to everyone’s surprise, William, running as “Billie Dahhling,” won.
The outcry following William’s victory and the intense pressure on him to relinquish the title are well-documented. (I ran across this link — I don’t exactly know where it came from but it seems to capture the relevant facts and a few interesting quotes I haven’t read elsewhere. The Tampa Bay Times articles below also detail the chronology.)
His crown was presented to him at the Pow-Wow the night before the Homecoming Game, but he was not part of the halftime festivities at midfield. One of the reasons he was not permitted to participate in the crowning was the death threats that had been received.
I Didn’t Understand or Find It Funny
Sixteen-year-old me, in the middle of my junior year in high school and planning to attend Florida State University, was not amused. I was embarrassed and disdainful that someone would take it upon himself to disrupt a beloved tradition.
Reconciling the Past
When Phil Barco, the 1975 homecoming Chief who had been director of student activities in 1980, began assembling a reunion of former Chiefs and Princesses in 2015, William Wade was on the guest list. (Phil and William had reconnected a few years prior.)
William Wade wasn’t on the guest list as a question mark, an asterisk in history, or an unknown commodity.
William Wade was on the guest list as Florida State University’s 1980 Homecoming Princess.
William Wade passed away February 26 from complications of colon cancer.
Tributes shared by people with whom William crossed paths, especially friends and former students, are full of grief, deep gratitude, and humor.
One of my favorites came from his friend Ilyce Meckler:
William observed the world around him and saw injustice hidden in plain sight. He deeply understood and felt the pain of those without a voice and set out to challenge society’s conventions through his music. Wearing little armor himself, he forged ahead by composing powerful musical theater while balancing a mirror for us to see the strength that we all have inside ourselves to make change.
Ilyce captures qualities of William I hear echoed repeatedly:
- He was an astute observer of the world
- He especially sensed injustice and refused to back down from it
- He was, for the most part, “without armor”
I read that William’s quest to be Homecoming Princess wasn’t about the “princess” parts — wearing a beautiful gown, being crowned with the ceremonial headdress — but because the whole process seemed so superficial and steeped in gender stereotypes.
Armor-wise, there probably isn’t anything that could have reinforced his psyche and his body once he stood his ground on keeping his title. Once the ACLU got involved and helped broker an agreement the Friday prior to homecoming on Saturday. Once the rocks were hurled at him and the death threats came his way.
A 2018 Birthday Remembrance
My goal of creating a post all about William is to celebrate the difference he made for others.
For the Juilliard students he served as an accompanist.
For the friends across the years he thrilled with music and friendship.
To learn more about William’s journey, read What happened to William Wade? After 35 years, hope for a real homecoming and Epilogue: William Wade, scorned as FSU princess, helped others rise through music, both from the Tampa Bay Times.
I found out from one of the Tampa Bay Times articles that William’s campaign motto had been “A queen with a difference.”
The ridicule I felt in 1980 turned to admiration by 2015.
We may never know the toll 1980’s events took on William. I suspect it was quite a heavy one. In this 1988 article, he says, “I’m not sorry I ran for princess. But I don’t think it changed anything.”
Whatever the afterlife holds for him, I am positive there will be no hurled rocks, no death threats, no hatred.
What a welcome relief that must be.
And I hope William knows that he did, indeed, change things.
Happy birthday, William.
This post will be linked to Kat Bouska’s site, for the prompt “write a post using the word ‘found.'”