Friday, June 19, 2015
Gov. Terry McAuliffe was the keynote speaker this month at a special graduation ceremony hosted by Children’s Hospital of Richmond at Virginia Commonwealth University, VCU Medical Center and ASK Childhood Cancer Foundation. The annual celebration honored graduating high school students who have received care from the Pediatric Hematology and Oncology Clinic.
This year, the ceremony served to recognize 29 students representing 15 public schools and one home school program from across Virginia. This included 20 oncology, seven sickle cell and two aplastic anemia patients. These students continued their academic studies while often undergoing treatments such as surgery, chemotherapy, radiation, transfusions and bone marrow aspirations.
“It’s a great privilege for me to be here to congratulate the 29 graduates here today,” McAuliffe said. “I know you all have faced many challenges, stayed on track, graduated on time and you have excelled and it truly is extraordinary. Many of you have tackled some of the toughest courses — honors courses and AP courses — and maintained a 4.0. I congratulate you all on that.”
I know you all have faced many challenges, stayed on track, graduated on time and you have excelled and it truly is extraordinary.
Alma Morgan, educational consultant at VCU Medical Center, worked closely with each student to ensure they were on track academically and helped with their transition back to school. She introduced McAuliffe at the ceremony.
“When I started this celebration 18 years ago, I might have had a handful of young people,” Morgan said. “Today I have 29 graduates. This blessing comes from the advances in medical technology over the years, medical protocols and the support that you get from your family, friends, the medical team that works with you on an ongoing basis, and from your school officials.”
The first graduate, a sickle cell patient, had to leave the ceremony early to receive her monthly pheresis treatment. India Sisler, M.D., interim chief and assistant professor of pediatrics in the Division of Hematology and Oncology, explained what pheresis is and why her patient needed this important treatment.
“Pheresis is a red blood exchange,” Sisler said. “A lot of you are familiar with transfusions, but what [she] has done is a lot of her red blood cells are taken out and they get replaced by somebody else’s red blood cells that are healthy and don’t have sickle cell disease. She has this done every month to prevent a second stroke.” The topic of lifesaving treatment was something the students, parents, family and friends in attendance could all relate to.
Scholarships from the ASK Childhood Cancer Foundation, OSCAR-Sickle Cell Association of Richmond and memorial funds were awarded to all of the graduates to help with college expenses. Several students will be attending college in the fall at universities such as Temple University, Virginia Military Institute and William and Mary.
Cancer has had a huge impact on my life. It has brought me to my knees, it has given me the strength to stand up, it has given me tears and allowed me to smile.
McAuliffe ended his speech by reading a quote from an essay by Corey Johnston, one of the new graduates. “Everyone has his or her struggles. But being unhappy is not determined by the circumstances that the individual is in, but the manner in which he or she chooses to handle it is what matters. Cancer has had a huge impact on my life. It has brought me to my knees, it has given me the strength to stand up, it has given me tears and allowed me to smile. Most importantly, cancer has given me the determination to accomplish anything that I set my heart to.”
“Folks, I want you to remember that nothing is impossible if you set your hearts to it,” McAuliffe said.
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