Their promposal video went viral, but their friendship goes much further

BURNSVILLE, N.C. -- At Mountain Heritage High School in Burnsville, North Carolina, Rachel Newberry caught Ben Robinson completely off guard. He was a little surprised, a little shocked. 

Ben, who has Down syndrome, had no idea Rachel was going to ask him to senior prom. 

Every year we see stories like this -- a typical kid inviting a special needs kid to prom. Stories of kindness. But what makes this so different is that Rachel wasn't trying to be kind.

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Rachel Newberry and Ben Robinson. CBS News

In fact, when she posted the video and strangers started commenting that she was this amazing, incredible young lady with a very good heart, Rachel was a little put off.

"Yeah, it's not that at all.  I don't think that me asking my friend to prom makes me a good person," Rachel said. 

To understand how Rachel became so wonderfully oblivious to her own grace, you need go back to where this all started. 

Rachel and Ben have known each other their entire lives. They were in Sunday school together and immediately took to one another. Rachel was always the one person who could get Ben to calm down. And Ben was always the one person Rachel could count on. Their friendship is so unconditional that for the longest time Rachel didn't even know Ben had Down syndrome.

"I guess someone told me eventually and explained it," Rachel said.  

But it didn't change anything.

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Rachel Newberry and Ben Robinson CBS News

"No, no, he's still just my best friend after that," Rachel said.  

"When you say best friend, you mean best friend," I said. 

"I mean best friend, yeah," Rachel said emotionally. 

This is what people didn't understand when they saw her video. 

Fifty years ago, back when a lot of special needs kids were still being institutionalized, few people could have ever imagined a utopian moment such as this -- a time and place where differences melt away and kids like Ben are recognized less for their Down syndrome, and more for their ability to get down.

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  • Steve Hartman

    Steve Hartman has been a CBS News correspondent since 1998, having served as a part-time correspondent for the previous two years.