West Michigan High School Senior Gets Special Graduation Day Before She Dies

KALAMAZOO, Mich. (May 20, 2014) — A West Michigan high school senior battling long-standing health problems got the graduation she worked so hard for just one day before she died.

Staff at Kalamazoo Central High School helped put on an impromptu graduation in the hospital for 17-year-old Yeatise Gaines.

It was one of Yeatise’s biggest dreams to graduate high school. Teachers say she was focused on school, doing the best she could no matter what she was going through.

Kalamazoo Central High School principal Valerie Boggan says Yeatise was always cheerful and positive and she never stopped fighting.

For years, Yeatise battled a type of cancer that affected her bones and muscles. She was in and out of remission, her family says. The treatments and radiation just became too much on her body, and her lungs ultimately failed, says her sister Ava.

Despite the struggles she faced throughout life, those who know Yeatise say she never let anything her. When she couldn’t go to school, Ava says, Yeatise looked forward to working with her tutor. She always wanted to learn more.

Boggan says when they got the call that Yeatise was back in the hospital and her family wanted their help to give her a graduation celebration, people at the school didn’t hesitate. Boggan and other staff members took a cap, gown, and certificate of completion to her hospital room.

It was a celebration, Boggan says, a time to honor a young girl who worked hard to complete a dream, something she will never forget. “It meant the world to her,” sister Ava says. “Even if it wasn’t the normal, it was still really important to her.”

For Ava, it’s been comforting to see the outpouring of support and to know that her sister left such an impact on others.

Boggan says the Kalamazoo Central Relay For Life team will also do a special lap in Yeatise’s memory.

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