At first glance, high school students Autumn Michels and Rachael Steffens might not stand out. They appear to be two normal young women who happen to play in their school’s marching band. However, the story of how they came together is one of the greatest examples of kindness, inner strength, and hope we’ve had in a long time.
“They need to stop putting expiration dates on me.”
At seven months old, Autumn was diagnosed with a brain tumor that grew every year. It got so large that, to save her life, doctors were forced to remove her optic nerve when she was just 4 years old. But Autumn surprised everyone; when her father told her the tragic news, the plucky young girl merely said:
“It’s okay, daddy, God will see for me.”
Even though she had to go through a difficult early life, she would always maintain that same level of positivity; in school, she played instruments, got involved in clubs, and always moved forward.
“I’m going to prove them wrong,” Autumn said according to the Lansing State Journal. “They need to stop putting expiration dates on me.”
Living with blindness took some adjustments, but Autumn did not let her disability conquer her.
Last year, the 14-year-old Autumn entered Laingsburg High School. Having played instruments from when she was a child, she knew immediately that she wanted to continue to do so. Laingsburg High School also just so happens to have a 114-person marching band, one-third of the entire school’s population. She was immediately captivated by the idea and sought to join.
There was only one problem: her blindness meant that she needed a dedicated marching lead to help her navigate the marching routines.
Of course, Autumn had been able to memorize how to get around her school through the use of a cane and counting steps. But on the field, the ground was uneven and holding an instrument meant that she was unable to use her cane to feel her way forward.
This did not disqualify her from the band. On the contrary, staff at the school always did their best to accommodate her, but this assistance was difficult to organize—Autumn did not have a dedicated person to help, which meant that support staff usually had to rush to find someone at the last minute.
“We didn’t know what was going to happen.”
But even though Autumn wanted to march with the band, she was always considerate of the sacrifice someone else would have to make for her—leading her on the field meant that person would not be able to play an instrument.
Still, if she was going to march with the band, enlisting the help of a dedicated march lead was unavoidable.
“We didn’t know what was going to happen,” Autumn’s father, 39-year-old Jason Michels, said according to the Lansing State Journal.
Things seemed bleak for Autumn’s marching prospects. That is, until she met 17-year-old senior Rachael Steffens at camp. Rachael, who plays in the percussion section, immediately volunteered to be Autumn’s dedicated marching lead, but only for the camp.
Rachael and Autumn’s friendship grew—but when band camp was over Rachael was forced to make a difficult choice: sacrifice her last year in the band, or abandon a friend.
Rachael had only one last chance to march in the band, and if she was going to help Autumn the whole year that chance would be gone.
“For these kids, senior year is their last time around. It’s the last time they march or their last homecoming game,” Laingsburg High School Band Director Thomas Cousineau said according to the Lansing State Journal.
Marching band staff promised her that they would find a dedicated helper for Autumn after camp was over. However, as time went on, no such help materialized. In the meantime, though, Rachael and Autumn’s friendship grew.
“You know, you just grow and learn to know somebody over talking, and so we would spend so much time during the day together, we learned a lot about each other,” Rachael said according to the Lansing State Journal.
Time continued to move forward, and the two young girls became fast friends.
“I like it this way.”
Unfortunately, when camp ended, band staff informed Rachael that they were unable to find a dedicated marching lead for Autumn. This left Rachael with a choice: abandon her friend, or sacrifice an entire year of playing in the marching band.
In the end, though, Rachael could not abandon Autumn, and she volunteered to be Autumn’s dedicated marching lead for the rest of the year. But even though the sacrifice was significant, she has no regrets.
“I like it this way,” Rachael said according to the Lansing State Journal. “I’m still marching. I’m still on the field. I’m still with the band. I’m essentially doing the same thing I would be doing. I’m just doing that with Autumn.”
As for Autumn, she was thrilled by her friend’s sacrifice and deep devotion to her. But the two girls would not have it any other way—their deep love and respect for one another drove their friendship and that, in turn, drove Rachael to to help Autumn.
“Rachael has kind of made our dreams come true,” Angie Michels, Autumn’s mother, told the Lansing State Journal.