A Dobson High School senior battling cancer wanted to sit with his classmates in cap and gown at graduation. Instead, he watched Thursday night's ceremony in plain clothes from the stands.
Stephen Dwyer is 2.5 credits shy of the graduation requirement. Having already passed the state exams, he will "easily graduate in December of 2016." But for Thursday's event, Mesa Public Schools said no diploma, no ceremony.
"This is so black and white to them, they can't even see straight. They are so unwilling to budge and it just is heartbreaking," said family friend Jeannie Moore.
Several supporters held signs and wore orange -- the color of Leukemia awareness -- in the stands.
"I've known Stephen since sixth grade and what he went through is not something he chose to do," said Dobson High senior Ana Garcia. "So it's definitely not fair because he had to work probably twice as hard as any of us to catch up and be where he is right now."
A Mesa Schools spokeswoman called Dwyer "strong" and "courageous," but said he would only be allowed to lead his class as student body president into Mustang stadium. Afterwards, Dwyer was required to sit in the stands.
"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," the district said in a statement.
Fellow student council member Jacob Martinez said Dwyer's only wish was to throw his cap in the air.
"They say it's a matter of policy, but, I mean, they should be able to make decisions based on circumstances, and this is a perfect circumstance to allow him to be able to do that," Jacob said.
Dwyer posted a long message on his Dwyer Strong Facebook page saying withdrawing from his junior year for cancer treatments was not a choice, but rather a life-and-death matter. He said even though he's short a few credits, he hopes his story helps others in the future.
"I write this because I believe what is happening to me (being excluded from the graduation ceremony) and other students like me is wrong," he wrote. "Students like me who had to suffer due to no faults of their own are lumped in the same category as those who failed classes or got suspended for doing something stupid. It makes us feel like we are being punished for something we had absolutely no control over whatsoever."
Jeannie Moore, whose son swam with Dwyer, got choked up while discussing the district's decision.
"He doesn't want to once again miss out and be singled out because of this cancer that he had. He wants to be normal!" she said. "It could have been such a non issue if they would have would have just let the boy wear his cap and gown."
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