10: Graduation Day

10: Graduation Day

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Inspiration for Nurses

Graduation Day

Love one another and help others to rise to the higher levels, simply by pouring out love. Love is infectious and the greatest healing energy.

~Sai Baba

“One teenage girl is dead and another is in critical condition following a Sunday night shooting in Cambridge.” This was the lead in The Cambridge Chronicle on June 4, 2012. Both victims were students at Cambridge Rindge and Latin School where I am a school nurse. In this inconceivable tragedy, Shay lost her life. Thanialee, the survivor, was shot several times and hospitalized at Mass General in Boston.

Graduation was in three days, and as I headed to the hospital to visit her, I recalled how excited Thanialee had been two weeks earlier when I chaperoned prom. She’d literally beamed about being a senior and counted the days until graduation, then danced all night long.

Through the IVs, machines, and tubes, I took her hand. Her mother held her other hand as Thanialee said hoarsely, “I miss school, my friends.” Tears filled her eyes. “And I’ll miss graduation.”

“It’s okay to cry,” I whispered. I gave her all of the emotional support I had and I left feeling angry, sad, and useless.

Then, one of my colleagues had an idea. What if Thanialee could attend her graduation via Skype? What if I could do something positive that could change her outlook on her life, if even for a few hours?

Determined, I met with the IT specialists at the hospital and the school. They explained how we could make this happen. I volunteered to get the equipment, and that very afternoon I borrowed a $30,000 five-foot-tall robot and carefully loaded it into my SUV. I made my way back to the high school, where the hospital IT specialist joined me. We positioned the robot/computer on stage in the dignitary section and dressed it in a cap and gown. While the technical aspects were being worked out for the robot to help project Thanialee live on the big screen, I was in the upstairs gym working with our IT specialist getting my iPad to synch with the robot/computer in her hospital room. If this worked, she would be able to participate in the pre-graduation flower pinning reception too.

It was touch and go for a while as we worked feverishly to get the connections and audio to work. Then, like magic, we saw Thanialee in her hospital bed! We tested it several times to make sure it would not fail, and at 4:30 p.m. the school IT specialist had to leave and I was on my own. Nervously, I watched the clock tick to 5:00. I launched the Skype session and Thanialee appeared on my screen, smiling through tears, dressed in her cap and gown.

We shared a few heartfelt words, and then it was time for the students to talk with their classmate. Thanialee spent an hour with her classmates. “I love you!” they chimed repeatedly, back and forth. I could hardly hold back my own tears of joy during this love fest. The students were ecstatic about having Thanialee participate in this upbeat, beautiful celebration.

By then it was 6:00. Graduation time! The big equipment on the stage took over. The ceremony started with a moment of silence for Shay, with sniffles and muffled sobs breaking the hush. There was another moment of silence and hope for Thanialee.

Then, to everyone’s surprise, the principal announced, “Thanialee is with us tonight via video conferencing!” At that moment her face appeared on the large screen on the stage. The entire gym vibrated with clapping, cheering and screaming. Thanialee waved and said, “I love you,” then began the chant. “Seniors! Seniors!” The gym reverberated with her classmates cheering, “Seniors! Seniors! Seniors!”

It was powerful. Then, as planned, the screen went back to black as the graduation proceeded. Thanialee continued to have the live feed in her hospital room throughout the ceremony.

After all the other graduates had been called, Thanialee’s tenth-grade brother marched on stage to accept her diploma. This time the crowd went even wilder. They quieted only to see and hear Thanialee one last time on the screen.

“Congratulations, everyone. I love you all so much. Thank you for our amazing graduation… together.” Her mother came on briefly too, offering her thanks for all the love and support.

As the ceremony came to a close, happiness and joy radiated throughout the entire gymnasium. Somehow the heaviness we were all feeling had lifted.

Although this was one of the saddest tragedies in my career, that graduation was one of the highlights of my nursing profession. School nursing is so much more than bandaging bodies: it’s mending the minds and soothing the spirits of students and parents, too.

~Tracy Rose-Tynes

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