EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

June 16, 2013

Editorial: Cancer survivor should walk with classmates

The Eagle-Tribune

---- — Brandon Paquette is the first to say he hasn’t earned a diploma from Pinkerton Academy.

Not yet.

He failed geometry and thus fell one credit short of the number of credits he needed to graduate tomorrow with the rest of the 750-odd members of Pinkerton’s Class of 2013.

All he wants to do is walk with his classmates as they assemble for commencement at the Verizon Wireless Center in Manchester

Perhaps he would remain seated when the roll is called and the graduates rise to their feet and line up to receive their diplomas. Perhaps he would join the line but receive a handshake instead of a diploma -- he won’t earn his high school degree until he completes a summer school course.

Seems like a reasonable request. But Pinkerton, a privately run public school serving Derry and nearby towns, has said no, and that to us is unreasonable.

The 18-year old from Hampstead has struggled with a rare form of cancer for years. His fight earned him recognition from the Children’s Miracle Network in 2008 as New Hampshire’s Champion Child.

Paquette has been cancer-free for almost five years, almost long enough to say he has been cured.

But he had a scare when doctors feared a relapse and he needed tests, according to his mother They proved negative, but he missed some class time, which he says made him fall behind and left him unable to catch up.

So he failed geometry and now must make up the course this summer to earn his degree and go on to join the Air Force, his ambition.

He had hoped he could still don a cap and gown with the rest of his classmates, but the school said the rules wouldn’t allow it.

In a statement in response to Eagle-Tribune questions about the decision, Pinkerton Headmaster Mary Anderson had this to say: “Graduation is meaningful; it recognizes students who have met the requirements for a high school diploma. Pinkerton admires the hard work of all students, especially under trying circumstances, but participation in the graduation ceremony is for students who are graduating.”

The irony, of course, is that if Brandon Paquette had died of his cancer, he likely would have had a special place at tomorrow’s graduation.

There would have been a moment of silence, perhaps a dedication with his image in the program, a murmur from his friends or even a standing ovation when his name was mentioned by the valedictorian.

But, no, he survived cancer. And rather than celebrate that, Pinkerton is invoking “policy.”

So he is to be a non-person tomorrow, barring a last minute change of heart by Pinkerton. And this really is a matter for the heart

Rules are rules but among the lessons of a liberal education are that there are always exceptions and that common sense and simple human decency ought to trump stiff-necked adherence to rules and policies.

Pinkerton has already, and sensibly, relaxed the rules in the case of another member of the Class of 2013.

Skylar Anderson was told she could not wear her National Guard sash over her graduation gown because school policy permitted only school-related sashes, like those worn by members of the National Honor Society.

But after an outcry over its apparent lack of respect for the military, the school relented and agreed to a compromise that will allow Anderson to don the sash after she and others entering the service are asked to stand to be recognized during the commencement ceremony.

It is not too late even now for Pinkerton to reverse course again and allow Brandon Paquette to march with his classmates. He plans to be at the Verizon Center anyway to cheer for friends who are graduating.

So the school has a decision to make. One way or the other, it will be one last lesson for Pinkerton’s Class of 2013.