DADE CITY — It may not have been the high school graduation Vanessa Jasmin Garcia once dreamed about, but it proved special in its own way.
On Friday afternoon, as rain fell across their community, friends and teachers from Pasco High School gathered at the Gulfside Center for Hospice Care at Bayfront Health Dade City to celebrate with the 17-year-old senior as she was awarded an honorary high school diploma.
“You are truly an inspiration,” Principal Kari Kadlub said.
Garcia, 17, was diagnosed with a brain tumor in elementary school, but had been in remission until about two years ago. Even as the tumor returned, Garcia continued to work hard, stayed positive and refused to complain, school officials said.
“She’s been fighting, fighting, fighting,” Kadlub said.
The teenager began this school year attending her classes and making good grades, but as her condition worsened she was able to spend less and less time in class.
One of her goals was to graduate, and when it became clear she could not finish her studies and might not live to see the commencement ceremony at the end of this month, the district arranged for a special ceremony at the high school just for Garcia.
Even that was not to be. Her family called to say that Garcia had taken a turn for the worse and couldn’t be moved from her bed.
That’s when Pasco High decided to take the ceremony to the hospice, which is just down the street from the school.
Students, teachers, district officials and others packed into a room just down the hall from Garcia’s hospice room. Superintendent Kurt Browning and school board member Allen Altman, both Pasco High graduates, were among those in attendance.
Congratulatory flowers and balloons were everywhere and later slices of cake would be passed around. Someone hung a large banner with signed messages from friends, such as “Congrats, girl!!! You’re a very strong and beautiful individual” and “We are all so proud of you.”
Soon nurses wheeled Garcia’s bed into the room. She wore her cap and gown. She could communicate only with an occasional thumbs up, but through that signal she let everyone know she understood all that was happening.
Her parents, Renato and Maria Garcia, stood nearby as their daughter listened to testimonials from several people in the room.
“You have more spirit and determination than anyone I’ve ever met,” said Davida Massey, a teacher who provided homebound education services to Garcia when she could no longer come to school.
Kadlub handed her the diploma, choking up as she talked about how Garcia’s power, courage and optimism serve as an inspiration for all who know her.
Despite all Garcia went through the last couple of years, Kadlub said the teenager never made excuses.
“The child stays positive all the time,” Kadlub said. “Amazing. Amazing.”