Stephen Dwyer: Student With Leukemia Barred From Graduation, Denied Cap And Gown

Stephen Dwyer is an excellent student. Not only does he participate in the high school varsity swim team, he is also the student body president and the president, and member, of the National Honor Society, all while maintaining a 4.0 GPA and above.

Dwyer has always strived to do his best, so you can only imagine his disappointment when his high school administrators told him he could not participate in the 2016 graduation ceremony because he fell 2.5 credits short of meeting the graduation requirements. Obviously, the requirements are set in place for a reason, but Stephen, his family and his fellow classmates were sure an exception would be made for the high school senior.

According to a post penned by Dwyer on the Facebook page “Dwyer Strong,” Stephen was forced to withdraw from Dobson High in Mesa his entire junior year so he could receive a life-saving bone marrow transplant (BMT) to treat his high-risk leukemia.

“Withdrawing from school for the 2014-2015 school year was not a choice that my family and I made,” Stephen explained. “That was a protocol all BMT patients had to follow during this type of treatment. I had to be in isolation after I received my transplant because my immune system was non-existent; it was just at the beginning of growing again.”

Prior to the transplant, Dwyer underwent 12 chemotherapy treatments and six treatments of radiation. The intense treatments left Stephen incredibly weak and unable to even think about attending school. However, his determination to graduate with his class made him push even harder to get back to school, and he was able to successfully complete “three different online courses between February 2015 and the beginning of the ’15-16 school year.” Dwyer officially returned to Dobson High at the beginning of the 2015-2016 school year, and was able to achieve a 4.2 GPA and improve his class rank to 152nd out of 558 students.

“I was a part of the varsity swim team again in 2015 after being back in the water only a couple months; I spent all year as President and as a member of the National Honor Society,” Stephen wrote. “To push myself a bit harder, I added an ‘A-hour’ class (before first period) to my spring schedule which required sacrificing some extra rest.”

Despite his hard work and perseverance, Stephen was told that he was not allowed to participate in the 2016 graduation ceremony with the rest of his peers because he fell 2.5 credits short. Dwyer was denied his cap and gown, and was barred from sitting with the graduating class. A compromise was proposed that Stephen could lead the Class of 2016 out at the beginning of the ceremony at 7:30 p.m. Thursday. However, he then had to leave and watch his friends graduate from the stands like everyone else.

According to USA Today, Mesa Public Schools spokeswoman Helen Hollands released a statement regarding the matter on Thursday. Read her statement in its entirety below.

“Stephen Dwyer is a strong, courageous young man. Dobson High School and Mesa Public Schools have worked with the Dwyer family throughout Stephen’s high school career to provide an educational environment that is safe and supportive.

“Each year, the district has a number of students who due to their personal hardships have not earned the minimum number of credits required to graduate. They are informed about their credits and graduation status throughout their senior year. These students do not participate in a graduation ceremony before successfully earning a diploma.

“All of them, including Stephen, may participate in other senior year activities and traditions such as prom and senior award ceremonies. As student body president, Stephen will be leading the students onto the field. He chose not to accept several other opportunities offered him to participate in the graduation ceremony in his role as a student leader.”

Stephen said he wasn’t sharing his story to gain sympathy from those in the community. Rather, he just wants everyone to know that it is wrong for his school to deny him one of the biggest moments of his life.

“I understand the concern of setting a certain precedent for kids who failed to meet the graduation requirements, but I believe people like me have a special circumstance and don’t deserve to feel like they are being punished,” Dwyer wrote in his post. “It is hard for me to understand why some people do not look forward to doing such great things for students in these situations because if they were to have let me be with my peers, it would truly ‘make’ this school year for me. I could really use that. I lost a lot of high school memories already and now I’m losing the final one.”

Despite Stephen’s plea, and the support of his classmates, the administration would not budge on their decision. Stephen was forced to watch the graduation ceremony from the stands. However, when the ceremony was over, he went back on the field, dressed in his cap and gown, to take pictures with his friends and family.

Do you think Dobson High should have allowed Stephen Dwyer the opportunity to participate in graduation? Leave your comments below.

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