A man with wavy brown hair and a warm, bright smile struts into the Kansas State Student Union. To the average passerby, he is just another college kid bustling off to study, until — wait, what’s that?
Scarlet, satin fabric emerges from behind him, billowing in the breeze as the Union doors continue to swing open and close with a steady hustle of students and staff. Fastened securely around his neck is his trademark: a red cape.
Who is this student? His name is David Beckley, senior in industrial engineering. But here’s how he describes himself.
“I like wearing the cape because I like to stand out,” Beckley said. “I find that if I’m having a bad day, I just put on the cape and somehow it makes me feel better — one would even say super, if you’re being corny. But it also brings smiles to other people, or so I’ve been told.”
Beckley said confidence is not an issue for him, even in the cape.
“I know who I am — I’ve known for a long time, and I’m super confident in who I am,” Beckley said. “I have Asperger’s and ADHD, as well as LAMS — Look At Me Syndrome. I mean, I’m wearing a cape. I do not have a problem standing out.”
When asked why he chose to attend K-State, Beckley said proximity to his family and staying in Kansas were very important to him. When choosing between K-State and the University of Kansas, he said the deciding factor came down to K-State having better “climbing trees.”
Beckley said he wears his cape to live his life every day with one purpose in mind: making people happy as much as he can. He spends no time dwelling on the bullying he experienced in his childhood; he is far more interested in what he had learned from the experience.
“The best way to stop bullies is to own who you are,” Beckley said. “If you wear what makes you special as armor, no one can use it against you. You can’t let other people define you; you have to define yourself.”
Beckley has been the president of Delta Alpha Pi, an honor society for students with disabilities, for the past three years. He said he wants to be an advocate for students with disabilities, both physical and mental, and he is actively working to give this organization a larger presence on campus.
Beckley delivered a speech at a diversity summit on campus a few years ago, and he spoke about the importance of embracing yourself. Beckley said he didn’t talk about the “culture of disability” because it is vast and he doesn’t like labeling things as disabilities.
The way Beckley lives his life frees him from pressure, he said. He does not allow the spark that makes him stand out to be extinguished by “cookie-cutter” social norms. Instead, he welcomes his whims and uses them to define himself.
Beckley may not be able to fly like Superman or drive around in the Batmobile, but with his bright red cape, he does have the power to make people smile.