An aisle widened within the packed ballroom, leading up to the stage. Pomp and Circumstance played over the speakers — but in contrast to the solemnity that usually comes with graduation, cheers and applause pressed against the walls of the ballroom.
Amid the bright and crazy colors of dancers, children marched in gold graduation gowns, ready to accept their diploma for being five years cancer free.
“It’s just a huge milestone — five years cancer free makes you technically a survivor,” said Jamie Lick, the Family Relations Director.
The graduates ranged in age and height, but the significance doesn’t vary.
“I want to say that it’s even if not as important as a high school graduation,” he said. “A big part of their life was cancer and they are able to look back on that and celebrate all the hardships and put them behind them.”
And for Mary Schlapkohl, who gave the commencement speech, realizing the significance of graduation required looking back at what came before.
“I think in order to appreciate what that accomplishment means we need to go back and think about what some of these kids have gone through,” she said in her speech. “Surgeries to put in essential lines and surgeries to take our essential lines. Surgeries to remove tumors. Lots of chemotherapy.”
But Schlapkohl believes that graduating from cancer, although it may look similar to other graduations, has a very different nature.
“When you think about graduating from cancer, it’s a little different from graduating from high school or junior high,” she said. “I think it’s a much bigger deal.”
Regular graduation is made of choices — whether to study for a test or not, or if homework will be done tonight.
“But when you have cancer you don’t have those decisions or choices,” Schlapkohl said. “You don’t have any tests to study for. You can’t study for blood tests or the x-rays.
And she hoped the children will never forget the strength they learned.
“I hope you always remember that you are a cancer survivor,” she said. “Remember the love and support your family gave to you to get you to today. Treasure that.”
And as the children grasped the diplomas to their chest, bowed to the applause, flipped their tassels to the other side and threw the hats in the air, they inspired the dancers still standing.
“I think it gives them hope,” Lick said. “It’s so great to hear a positive story about kids that are survivors and have made it.”
The children that graduated this year, although not all could make it to the ceremony:
• Lorond Frazier
• Calisa Jaster
• Bryce Sutton
• Teaira Greathouse
• Megan Sacia
• Sarah Waul
• Bailee Williams
• Christopher Brown
• Cameron Ridder
• Jared Minikus
• Cameron Christiansen
• Jack Rooney
• Brianna Daniels