MESA, Ariz. (AP) — Some criticized a suburban Phoenix high school for not allowing a student diagnosed with cancer to walk with his graduating class after he worked to keep up with classes through treatment.
Stephen Dwyer withdrew from school his junior year to receive a life-saving bone marrow transplant for leukemia. Dwyer, who is student body president, is 2 ½ credits short of graduating and will finish in December.
A community Facebook page for Dwyer says the teen wanted to sit on the field in a cap and gown alongside his classmates Thursday but didn’t ask to receive a diploma or even walk across the stage. After numerous meetings with the district superintendent and school board members, his request was denied.
He led seniors at Dobson High School in Mesa onto the field for commencement but then sat in the stands. He donned a cap and gown after the ceremony so he could take pictures with classmates.
Several people attended the ceremony with signs supporting Dwyer and wore orange shirts, the color representing leukemia awareness.
“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 Martinez, a student council member, told Phoenix station KTVK-TV.
Mesa Public Schools spokeswoman Helen Hollands lauded Dwyer for being “courageous” but cited district policy.
“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,” Hollands said in a written statement. “These students do not participate in a graduation ceremony before successfully earning a diploma.”
Dwyer declined several other opportunities to participate in the graduation ceremony as a student leader, Hollands added.
Dwyer family members did not immediately respond to requests for comment Friday by The Associated Press.
The Facebook page says Dwyer went through chemotherapy, radiation and other treatments that left him exhausted between June 2014 and February 2015.
After that, he completed courses online until returning to school in fall 2015. He rejoined the varsity swim team and added an early-morning class to help catch up academically.