That’s the way Pass Christian High School senior Trae Henderson greets his friends and family. While other seniors are spending time on SnapChat and Instagram, using social media as a means of engagement, he’s spending his time studying and absorbing the culture of Japan, learning to count in Swahili and obsessing over the performance art of the Blue Man Group.
He’s also one of the most beloved members of the student body at Pass High. Ask any member of the school’s faculty and students about Trae and you’re likely to hear the phrase, “Trae rocks.”
And “rocks” he does. A longtime member of the Pass High marching band and jazz band, he knows how to rock on the drums, especially when the band whips out the old Journey favorite, “Don’t Stop Believin.’ ”
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Sure, Trae Henderson is a normal teenager with his passion for video games and hip-hop music. But for someone who came into the world at 24 weeks, he celebrates his life — every day.
Against the odds
Trae’s mother, Kandi Hemderson, said her son was born 24 weeks premature. The survival rate for babies born before 25 weeks is 50 percent, according to verywellfamily.com. Being born premature left Trae completely blind in one eye, 90 percent blind in the other and on the autism spectrum.
“He was born at Memorial Hospital at Gulfport,” Kandi Henderson said. “I have an incompetent cervix — the day I went in, I called the doctor because I knew something was wrong, I was dilated six centimeters, so I’m very lucky I didn’t have him at home.”
She said he was on oxygen for so long that it deteriorated the retina in Trae’s eyes. He is completely blind in his right eye and he can see about four feet around him through his left eye.
“He had about nine eye surgeries before he came home from the hospital and he almost lost a kidney,” she said.
Trae was diagnosed with autism when he was five, she said.
“This led to some sensory issues — he wasn’t able to chew until a few a years ago,” she said. “He was nonverbal until he was seven, but once he was able to vocalize what he wanted to say, a lot of behavior problems went away and he really started blossoming around age 10.”
The Pass High senior has no trouble speaking his mind these days.
“When I was 10, I went from a partial to a total eclipse of the heart,” he said.
Trae’s father Cary Henderson said he noticed something “very special” about his son at a very early age.
“I was watching the movie ‘Drumline’ with Trae and he started banging on some pots and pans and I notice he was keeping rhythm,” Cary Henderson said. “And he was really little.”
And drums became one of his greatest passions in life.
For his entire high school career, Trae could be seen on Friday nights marching with the Pass High Pirates Band. He has a person walk with him to help with his drum and to act as his eyes.
“He’s one of the most naturally gifted students I’ve ever taught,” said Pass High band director Gavin McAdams. “He has perfect pitch — he’s got the mind of a musician.”
Trae also plays things by ear, which means he doesn’t have to read music.
“He can hear something one time and play it back,” McAdams said.
When he’s not performing with the Pirates, he’s listening to music.
“I love hip hop music,” he said. “The only slow song I like is ‘Total Eclipse of The Heart,’” Trae said.
“A total eclipse”
Trae’s love for the 1983 Bonnie Tyler song has permeated the culture at Pass High, as has his presence.
Melissa Harris nominated Trae as her 2018 “Teacher’s Choice” winner. The history teacher quoted Tyler in Trae’s nomination letter.
“You taught me when something is really, really great, I should say, ‘That’s a total eclipse,’ ” Harris wrote. “You totally rock!”
With graduation looming, Trae is thinking about life after Pass High. And he is also setting his life goals.
“I think I want to travel, hang out with the stars, join the Blue Man Group and work at Sweet Escape in DeLisle,” Trae said. “I want to go back to school, but just to visit.”
For now, Trae will continue his life at Pass High and even plans to do one last countdown on the intercom on his last day of school.
“Sayonara,” he said as he thought about that last day.