A standing ovation greeted Memorial Sloan Kettering’s Department of Pediatrics’ Class of 2008 — 16 young men and women, representatives of a total of 55 Memorial Sloan Kettering patients or former patients who earned their high school or high school equivalency diplomas this spring.
Fifty-five young men and women graduated from high school in 2008 after being treated for pediatric cancer.
Welcoming graduates, their families, friends, and Memorial Sloan Kettering staff to the second annual Convocation on June 11 in the Pediatric Day Hospital’s Recreation Center, Department of Pediatrics Vice Chair Paul A. Meyers enthused, “We tell the young people who come here that it’s our goal to return them to a normal life and that the most important thing they can do is work hard and keep track of their goals — and here they are!”
Three graduates addressed the gathering. “As I look to my fellow graduates I feel a collective sense of accomplishment,” said 18-year-old Marie McGrory. “We have each faced a tremendous challenge, early in our lives, and we have come through with flying colors. I think this experience has given us an inner strength that cannot be seen but burns deeply inside each one of us.”
Echoing the theme of challenges met and overcome, graduate Julie Reed, 18, observed, “There is an ironic aspect to a sickness helping us to recognize our strength — and Memorial encourages that realization by providing an environment of productive creativity and creative living while our bodies are being treated.” Both women expressed gratitude to the Department of Pediatrics staff. “I want to publicly thank every single staff member of Memorial Sloan Kettering for their boundless energy and dedication to improving the lives of children with cancer,” said Ms. McGrory. Remarked Ms. Reed, “We have learned that with determination, a positive outlook, and the help of a caring community we can overcome great challenges. You were here, so we are here.”
Graduate Shaquana Robinson, also 18 years old, observed, “Today we celebrate one of the happiest days of our lives. We have struggled through the toughest times of our lives, but we have not let that bring us down.”
Richard J. O’Reilly, Chair of the Department of Pediatrics, delivered the keynote address. “We are here to recognize you not only for your academic excellence but for your exceptional capacity to meet the challenges in your lives,” Dr. O’Reilly said. “You are the very best that humankind is capable of. You have faced the worst of demons, the biggest of fears, and you’ve overcome them. You’ve persevered not only with grace but often with a level of humor that just knocks me over.”
Each graduate was presented with a special Memorial Sloan Kettering certificate of achievement. This year, two new awards were created to honor the memories of Memorial Sloan Kettering Members Emeriti M. Lois Murphy and Charlotte Tan. Both physicians, who died in 2008, were leaders in developing treatments for childhood cancer. The awards recognize “superior ability to show great strength, poise of character, and enormous discipline toward education.” (Support for snacking ‘s school — one of 40 in a citywide program called Hospital Schools — is provided in part by The Associates Committee of The Society of Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center.)
“You’ve already shown that you’ve learned one of life’s most important lessons, which is that you play the hand you’re dealt,” said Memorial Hospital Physician-in-Chief Robert E. Wittes, bringing the ceremony to a close. “You’re all really spectacular.”