Hermitage Health Center hosts graduation ceremony for resident’s grandson

There were few dry eyes at the Hermitage Health Center Wednesday afternoon, as residents and family members alike put on a surprise graduation ceremony for resident Brenda Faye Williams’ grandson.

Williams’ daughter, Peggy Campbell, said they got news Friday Williams had only a few days left.

Williams, however, told them it was her last wish to see her grandson, Andrew Stanley, graduate high school, and Unaka High School seniors do not officially graduate for another month.

Therefore, they put on their own graduation ceremony so she could attend.

The family began setting up the ceremony.

“We were going to do something little,” Campbell said.

However, this “little” plan quickly changed once the nursing home heard of the plan, and they immediately began setting it up as an official event, decorating an outdoor pavilion to host the ceremony. By that point, Unaka High School principal Betsy Oliver agreed to officiate the miniature ceremony as if it was his official graduation.

Stanley’s friend group also participated, dressed in their official graduation gowns and walking up to their principal with music playing from a radio.

“My friends and I are really close,” Stanley said. “Their generosity means the world to me.”

Williams said she loved the ceremony.

“I never thought they would do something like this,” she said.

Campbell said the amount of support she received from the community once they found out, from the nursing home to the high school, was incredible.

“It warms my heart,” Campbell said. “[Hermitage] took over just because of her.”

She said the doctor informed the family Williams should not have been sitting up at that point, but there she was, sitting upright in her wheelchair watching the graduation ceremony.

The ceremony itself was a complete surprise to Williams, who heard about it only briefly the night before.

“It was unbelievable,” Williams said.

Stanley said the ceremony should inspire people to make every second count.

“It was emotional but also relieving to do this,” he said.

Campbell said the best part of the ceremony was watching her mother.

“I will remember how happy my mama is,” she said.

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