Wednesday, June 8, 2016
Gov. Terry McAuliffe was the keynote speaker last week at a special graduation ceremony hosted by the staff of the ASK Pediatric Hematology and Oncology Clinic at the Children’s Hospital of Richmond at Virginia Commonwealth University, VCU Health and the ASK Childhood Cancer Foundation.
The annual celebration, now in its 19th year, honored graduating high school students who have received care from the ASK Pediatric Hematology and Oncology Clinic. This year, the ceremony recognized 18 students representing nine school divisions from across Virginia. These students continued their academic studies while undergoing treatments such as surgery, chemotherapy, radiation, transfusions and bone marrow aspirations. McAuliffe also spoke at last year’s celebration.
“Two years in a row and I can promise you, I’ll be back next year,” McAuliffe said. “I wouldn’t miss this. This is very important to me. We are so proud of your work and all of the great challenges that you have faced. You’re on track, you’ve excelled and I want to congratulate you.”
Alma Morgan, educational consultant at Children’s Hospital of Richmond at VCU, started the ceremony by thanking the ASK Childhood Cancer Foundation for the support they had provided the students over the years. The foundation provides a pre-school program for young children that are diagnosed and first start treatment; an after-school program in Colonial Heights, Fredericksburg and Richmond for older children; and three weeks of summer camp every year.
“The young people who attend the camps tell me every year that they love being there with other kids like them because everyone understands and they don’t have to explain anything,” Morgan said. “So we really appreciate and thank the ASK Childhood Cancer Foundation for everything that they do.”
Morgan also thanked the hematology and oncology medical teams as well as everyone who makes a difference in the lives of the children in clinic.
“People often ask me, how long do you follow these children? I tell them, we meet them when they are first diagnosed and it could be as an infant or a toddler and we follow them through their school career, they graduate and we follow them through college. And then we follow them through the world of work, marriage and children … for a lifetime. For a lifetime, you are a part of our lives.”
I refuse to let sickle cell disease defeat me in any way.
Gov. McAuliffe ended his keynote address by reading from an essay by Rayshaun Mason, one of the new graduates. “I never use my disease as an excuse not to learn or not to go to school. I refuse to let sickle cell disease defeat me in any way. My advice to anyone who’s living with sickle cell disease is to keep pushing forward.”
“I have an incredible amount of faith in Rayshaun and in each and every one of you,” concluded McAuliffe. “That is why I wanted to be here today, to say thank you. You are an inspiration to me as governor.”
All graduates were presented with $500 scholarships provided by the ASK Childhood Cancer Foundation and the Sickle Cell Association of Richmond – OSCAR. Special scholarships from Gregg and Lori Kalata in memory of their son, Alex, and Debbie Robertson in memory of her daughter, Melissa, were presented to selected graduates.
The ceremony ended with 95-year-old hospital volunteer and “fairy godmother,” Jackie Viener, giving “pixie dust” to each of the graduates as they made a wish and started a new chapter of their lives.
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