Affirmation of Strength and Resolve
Children’s Hospital of Richmond at VCU Holds Graduation for Cancer Survivors and Patients with Blood Disorders
University Public Affairs
Ashley Gregory remembers when she was just 5 years old and was diagnosed with idiopathic thrombocytopenic purpura (ITP), a blood-clotting disorder that can lead to easy or excessive bruising and bleeding.
“On this day I was told I could no longer participate in gymnastics, play any sport, or even play on the playground at school for fear that I would severely hurt myself,” she wrote in an essay recently. “The only thing that I could continue to do was dance, I would no longer have a ‘normal’ childhood.”
On Tuesday, Gregory, along with 18 other students, was honored with a graduation ceremony and scholarship presentation at the Virginia Commonwealth University Medical Center for completing high school while fighting a severe medical issue and balancing clinic visits and medical procedures with school work.
Each student in attendance could relate in some way to Gregory’s sentiment. With illnesses ranging from leukemia to sickle cell disease, they all spent considerable time away from school as patients of the Children’s Hospital of Richmond at VCU Pediatric Hematology and Oncology Clinic.
The graduation ceremony is held each year as the hospital’s way to honor each student’s bravery, strength and dedication to health and academics.
This year’s ceremony featured remarks from former patients and Dr. Madhu Gowda from the clinic where the students were treated.
The ceremony host, Alma Morgan, VCU education consultant, was referred to several times over the course of the ceremony as a “second mom” to the students.
She called each graduate to the front of the auditorium to stand with family, teachers and principals whom they identified as influential on the road to graduation. Morgan read from essays that each student wrote describing personal journeys and offering advice in perseverance, love and life.
Claire Hatch, who survived leukemia and will attend Clemson University in the fall after graduating from James River High School, wrote that as a result of surviving, she fills her life with activities that help others, just as the nurses and doctors at VCU Medical Center did for her.
“As a child I already acquired significant life skills that other kids my age did not possess,” wrote Hatch, who was diagnosed at a young age. “Each child (with a serious illness) should know that they themselves have been given the gift of knowing. A gift that provides them with the strength and confidence they need to accomplish anything."
Jalen Rufus, a graduating Varina High School Senior and cancer survivor, wrote, “Honestly, the only advice I could give to someone dealing with all the problems brought on by cancer is to smile, laugh, love and pray, because with those four elements and God on your side, the battle is already declared won."
As Ashley Gregory’s words continued, and the students in attendance related to her fears that she would no longer have a “normal” childhood after diagnosis, her words shifted toward confidence and courage, traits all of the students have shown in abundance.
“At the time I thought it was one of the worst days of my life, but looking back on it now, it was one of the best because it changed the course of my life forever," Gregory wrote.
Every student at Tuesday’s ceremony received a scholarship provided by ASK Childhood Cancer Foundation, OSCAR – Sickle Cell association of Richmond, the Nancy Jones Memorial Scholarship, the Alex Kalata Memorial Scholarship, the Learning Specialist of Virginia Scholarship or the Melissa Robertson Memorial Scholarship.
Graduates were: Damon Reynolds, Allegheny High School; Alonzo Jones Jr., Amelia High School; Breanna White, Randolph-Henry High School; Danielle Arnt, Meadowbrook High School; Keith Cassell, Clover Hill High School; Claire Hatch, James River High School; Desmond Hawkins, Thomas Dale High School; Walter Davis, Colonial Heights High School; Ashley Gregory, Hanover High School; Rachel Rack, Hanover High School; Thearon Archer, Henrico High School; Darrius Christian, Varina High School; Walker Dunn, Hermitage High School; Adam Grobosky, Mills Godwin High School; Jalen Rufus, Varina High School; Alexis Smith, Deep Run High School; James Westbrook, Powhatan High School; Sophia Harper, George Wythe High School; and Elena DiBiasi, Riverbend High School.