WINNIPEG -- It’s graduation season and students across Manitoba are getting ready to move onto the next phase of their lives. Some of them, like Winnipeg high school student Willy Henderson Yendrys, are leaving behind a lasting mark.

“He’s just one of those people who (when) he’s not here next year, we’re going to feel it,” said John Bracken, head of Grant Park High School’s inclusion support program.

Willy is 21-years-old and has Down Syndrome. He is one of more than 60 students who are part of Grant Park’s inclusion support program. On Wednesday, Willy graduated high school and picked up a big award.

“Beyond proud, beyond proud,” said Willy’s mom Deanna Henderson. “When I got the call about the award, never mind the graduation in itself, it was amazing.”

Willy walked across the stage and made school history. He is the first person in his program to receive the Eddie Badescu Inclusion Award.

The award is named after a former Grant Park student, who had a rare neurological disorder. Badescu became the school president in 2005. He died of pneumonia, less than a year later.

Grant Park honours his memory each year by recognizing a student who has shown kindness and compassion to those in the inclusion program.

“A teacher asked ‘does it have to be a student in the general stream?’” said Bracken. “We looked up the criteria and it said ‘someone who has a nurturing attitude’ and we all knew who it was going to be. It’s going to be Willy.”

Bracken said Willy was the obvious choice because of his constant drive to help others. 

“On any given day, he’ll be pushing wheelchairs, reading to his peers in his program and checking in on people if they’re down.”

Willy’s mother said he has been selfless since he was a little boy. 

“He wants to help anybody who is more vulnerable than he is,” said Henderson.

Henderson’s parents said Willy is about to start a day program for adults with special needs. But for now, the family is celebrating his accomplishments. 

“He’s an amazing man,” said his father Daniel Yendrys. “He’s got a bright future ahead.”