Girl who died of cancer will not be recognized at graduation ceremony due to district policy


AMERICAN FORK, Utah — The family of a Utah girl who earned enough credits to graduate before she died will not be allowed to walk across the stage during the high school’s graduation ceremony next week due to a district policy.

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The news saddened classmates and community members, and some started an online petition asking the school district to change its policy.

According to her obituary, Samantha Corey died on Jan. 11 after a long battle with cancer. She was a senior at American Fork High School in American Fork, located halfway between Salt Lake City and Provo.

Corey was diagnosed with terminal cancer during her sophomore year, KUTV reported. Despite weekly chemotherapy treatments, the 17-year-old, nicknamed “Mantha,” earned enough credits to graduate just before her death.

“When you’re a terminal cancer patient, you know that’s not a priority,” the girl’s mother, Kimberly Corey, told the television station. “She wanted to be in school as much as she could, and this high school has been so good to her.”

“She was such a light. When we were looking at a timeline with her lifespan, our goal with her medical team was to be able to get her healthy enough to be able to last as long as graduation. She was just three months short.”

The community surprised Corey in November with a Ford Bronco parade, according to KSL-TV. It was her favorite vehicle, and the gesture brought her much joy.

“I feel like I am in Disneyland again and I love Disneyland,” she said, according to the television station.

After Corey’s death, her family received her diploma, but they hoped her name would still be called at the graduation ceremony, which is scheduled for May 22, KUTV reported.

“We just would have liked to have her name be read, and her siblings wanted to walk across the stage for her. Her brother wanted to wear her hat,” Kimberly Corey told the television station. “We weren’t expecting a big to-do; we just don’t want her to be deleted, you know.”

The Alpine School District said that went against policy, so the graduate would not be recognized during the ceremony.

“As students across Alpine School District celebrate graduation from high school, we are mindful that some students tragically pass before they and their families get to experience that milestone,” the school district said in a statement to KUTV. “Plans for graduation ceremonies are guided by district policy. Decisions about specific plans reflect our sincere desire to appropriately balance the need to remember those who have passed and the opportunity to celebrate the accomplishment of all graduates. We realize that not allowing for certain types of memorials during graduation ceremonies may cause additional pain for those closest to students who have passed. Our school administrators have the difficult responsibility of leading with compassion and empathy to help their school community process loss within the guidelines of policy.”

The statement added that “our hearts go out to the family of any student who passes away and recognize that a student death impacts our entire school community in complex ways. As we celebrate the accomplishments of our graduating students this Spring, we are also reminded of the significance of each life.”

District officials added that Policy 1300t provides guidelines about how to remember students who have passed away.

While saddened by the decision, Kimberly Corey said she understood the policy.

“They would then have to do the same thing for all kids that pass away and not all kids are the same, and I respect that,” Corey told KUTV. “They’re thinking of the kids across the entire district, and we are not the majority in the way that children pass away unfortunately.”

Several students will honor Mantha on graduation day by wearing rubber duck pins, according to the television station. She was known for her love of collecting rubber ducks.

In a letter, American Fork Mayor Brad Frost said the city would honor Mantah and her family with a tribute at the next city council meeting, scheduled for May 28.

Frost, in a statement to KUTV, said his office is trying to find a way to honor the late graduate in an appropriate fashion.

“We are working with administration at the school level and at the district level and are trying to find a resolution that honors Samantha appropriately,” Frost wrote. “I’m certain we will find the right manner to do so.”

The online petition, which was started on Tuesday, already has more than 830 signatures.

“Administration has done what they can but the district won’t budge,” the petition reads. “Everyone included in the student body at American Fork High School loved Mantha and we are troubled by this problem.”

Kimberly Corey said her family will find another way to celebrate their loved one’s milestone.

“If we can’t walk on the stage for her, we will celebrate in a different way,” she told KUTV. “We will honor her memory of being a kind, sweet person. She was such a light.”

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