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Graduation for one — Teen gets surprise ceremony after bout with the flu

teen gets surprise graduation ceremony
Posted at 9:23 PM, May 30, 2023

PARMA, Ohio — It’s a moment 18 years in the making. One that marks the difference between childhood and what lies beyond. This year, 177 students and their loved ones were invited to share that moment at the graduation ceremony for Padua Franciscan High School in Parma. But only 176 students came to St. Albert the Great Church donning their caps and gowns for the May 25 ceremony. Padua Franciscan’s President Davic Stec told News 5 that one person was missing.

“We call the name, and she doesn’t show up, so it was a little bit of a surprise to us,” he said. Jessica Callam wasn’t there for the ceremony. Her absence came as a shock. We spoke with Jessica and learned she’d been having a pretty rough week.

“Tuesday, we had our mass, and I was fine,” she said. “Wednesday, I woke up, and I was very nauseous and very weak.”

Jessica had the flu — on graduation day, no less. She hoped she could rally. Her family stayed in touch with a couple of teachers throughout the ceremony.

“'We’re trying to get there,'” the family relayed to Stec. “'When’s the latest we can get there and still get the diploma?'”

It turned out it wasn’t meant to be. In the end, it was Jessica's concern for her classmates that kept her home.

“I was feeling really sick, and I didn’t want to risk anything by going because I was supposed to sit really close to people,” she said. So she missed out. Or so she thought.

Jessica's teachers started talking and soon got Stec on board with their plan. They gave Jessica a few days to get back on her feet before her family asked her to put on that cap and gown.

“They told her she was going to get some pictures in the front yard,” Stec said. “So she put on her gown, and we all had our gowns on.”

Jessica came outside for those pictures and found several teachers, the school principal, and Stec waiting for her outside. They brought a graduation ceremony for one right to her front door.

“I was just absolutely amazed and really happy because I didn’t think I was going to see any of them again,” Jessica said. “I thought they were just going to mail it to me.”

It’s no wonder they made such an effort. Jessica was beloved on campus; the marching band member always greeted everyone with a smile or a hug.

“She’s just the kindest, nicest young lady,” Stec told News 5. “She always said ‘hi’ to me in the hallway. I just appreciate her and the Bruin she has become.”

While she didn’t get to share it with the 176 other members of her class, this was certainly a moment to remember for Jessica.

“I may not get to walk on stage, I mean physically on the stage,” she said. “But I did get to walk in front of my parents, in front of my siblings too, and in front of my friend. And that made it really special.”

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