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Why five brave students graduated at a hospital

Posted at 5:17 PM, May 24, 2018

It was not the graduation ceremony Sarahi Avalos thought she would experience when she started high school -- but this celebration it is one she and her fellow graduates have earned a thousand times over.

“Unbelievable. I thought I’d never make it,” Avalos said.

She is fighting cancer, and her treatments have been so intense that she was not able to attend class at school. Avalos had to finish her classes from Diamond Children’s Medical Center at Banner UMC.  Avalos is one of five teens honored in a ceremony inside the hospital Thursday. Other honorees included Maiya Harris, Garrett Nesbitt, Austin Thacker, and Christopher Tom.



Tom still has trouble balancing after doctors removed a malignant brain tumor last year.

“That ability to make it through is called the essence of resilience,” Tom said in a speech at the ceremony. “By showing life that we can take whatever it throws at us, we're doing what it takes to be successful.”

Thacker missed a year of high school because his treatment for Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma was so intense.

“We not only made it to today, we also have shown the deepest evils and the most horrific diseases in this world that our possibilities are, and will always be, endless,” Thacker said.

Thacker, who recently published a novel with help from Make a Wish, is determined not to let his disease define him.

“Never for a second let it write your story or pick up your pen,” he said.

Graduates’ family members, friends, and their doctors and nurses filled the auditorium.

“I've learned from him how to be strong, how to overcome a lot of things in life without complaining,” said Thacker’s mother, Jennifer Monteleone.

“Just by you being you and going through the struggles you've gone through health-wise you've taught each one of us a lesson, and that lesson is how to have courage, said Ashley Brock an education specialist at Diamond Children’s Hospital School.



The DCHS provides education and instruction to patients who cannot attend class. Brock, who has teaching experience with several Tucson-area districts, coordinates with patients’ schools to ensure they have an opportunity to learn and not fall further behind while they’re in the hospital.

Some of the teens have finished their treatments, while others, like Tom, still have battles left to fight, however, all of them are ready for life after high school, and away from the hospital.

“We're fighting one of the most life-threatening illnesses out there and yet here we are today and that is beautiful,” he said.