NAPPANEE — It was a graduation ceremony for one — but that made it even more special for NorthWood High School senior David Price.
David’s parents Ray and Diane, brother Noah, school administrators and approximately 30 others gathered in the audience Friday afternoon at the school to support and celebrate his achievements.
David has autism and his mother has been ill for several weeks — struck suddenly with influenza, which led to other complications. Between Price’s seeming anxiety over his mother’s illness and graduating and her slow recovery, Diane called Wa-Nee Community Schools special education coordinator Shirley Elliott and said they were going to have to opt out of the graduation ceremony.
It was a heart-rending decision for the family, though, because they knew David had worked so hard to graduate and Diane expressed to Elliott that she wished she could see him walk across the stage.
That set things in motion for a concentrated effort by school administrators and staff to hold a private graduation ceremony prior to the full commencement exercise to be held that evening.
“As with all students, we want parents to have the opportunity to see their students graduate and walk across the stage,” Elliott said. “So I took it as a challenge and thought, ‘what could I do to make this happen for this family’ — or any family.”
So Elliott said she “hatched a plan” and brainstormed with NWHS staff in charge of the graduation ceremony and asked administrators — Superintendent Scott Croner, Principal Dave Maugel and Vice Principal Jay Olson — if there was any possible way to make it happen and she was able to present a couple of options to Diane.
“When she picked Friday afternoon it was prefect because the gym was already set up for graduation,” Elliott said.
Diane put a post on her Facebook page a couple of days prior explaining the situation and asking for those who could to come and support David and many people showed up.
“I was amazed by the turnout on such short notice,” Croner said after the ceremony. “It’s a testament to what an incredible young man he is. He has a bright future ahead.”
As Pomp and Circumstance played and the attendees rose to their feet, David, accompanied by this brother Noah, walked past the Panther Pit mural and down the stairs, just like his classmates would that night and into the gym. They sat as Maugel greeted them.
“The graduating class of 2018, parents and friends, on behalf of NorthWood High School, welcome,” he said.
He told the graduate, just as he would to the rest of the Class of 2018 that evening, to consider all those who have supported them and influenced their lives; the strong sense of community that exists and how they will go on to influence others. He gave an abbreviated version of the speech he’d give Friday evening and then David Lee Price was called to the stage.
Noah accompanied him to the ramp and then let his brother make the walk on his own to meet his principal and receive his diploma. David was beaming as he shook hands with the school administrators and went to his mom so she could take his photo.
As well-wishers congratulated David, Maugel said he has known David since his freshman year and he was a student who would “meet me in the parking lot every morning and give me a big smile. It’s my pleasure to be able to do this for him and for his family. He’s a great kid,” Maugel said.
Elliott, who just came to Wa-Nee last year, said, “It’s an awesome family. I’m very happy I got to know him and work with him.”
Croner gave all the credit to Elliott for the idea and planning. “It’s a great opportunity to recognize this young man and do something unique and special,” he said. “I’m very excited for the family.”
When asked how he felt David said, “Great!”
When Noah questioned whether he was feeling happy or sad about graduating, David’s eyes shined with some tears and he was unable to reply, but he kept a big smile on his face. Clearly, like many graduates, David was feeling a mixture of emotions.