MESA, Ariz. - The sign outside Dobson High School reminded everyone that graduation was just hours away. At the east end of the grounds, rows of chairs have been neatly set for the class of 2016. Enough seats except for one, the one for class president, Stephen Dwyer, 18.
A couple of days ago, Dwyer posted a thorough, passionate timeline of events of his battle with leukemia, enduring a bone marrow transplant and then finding the strength to make it back on campus for his senior year. He wrote: "I lost a lot of high school memories and now I'm losing the final one."
Unfortunately, as his recovery progressed, the clock on his senior year ran out and he came up two and a half credits short to graduate with his class. His appeal to the Mesa Public Schools district board to allow him to simply walk across the stage with his class was denied. Among classmates, the news was met with bitter disappointment.
"It's kind of disappointing, because we're all friends with him, we're all really close," Dobson senior Ashley Munday said.
Another senior, Luke Whalen-Gonzales, said, "He missed a lot of school, but he had a reason to."
"I don't think it's right that he can't even walk. He should at least be able to walk, you know," senior Colton Oldham said.
Comments online to Dwyer's blog also drew similar outrage. For example: "This breaks my heart ... I am very disappointed," "So sad that adults aren't setting the right example" and, "Who can I contact, you need to be on that field!"
Mesa Public Schools issued a statement saying they work with a number of students with personal hardships like Stephen, but they must adhere to a policy that requires full completion of the minimum requirements.
They did give him the option of "leading his classmates onto the field" -- but he would not be allowed to wear a cap and gown, and would have to sit in the audience once the ceremony began.
12 News spoke to parents who felt the board's decision was too heavy-handed for the circumstances.
"I could see if it was a different situation, but that situation was a unique situation," Yolanda Futrell said. "So, yeah, I'd be upset. I'd be devastated that my child couldn't walk."
To read Stephen Dwyer's Facebook post: https://m.facebook.com/dwyerstrong/