Faith Cline, 17, of Acworth, was that sole graduate. Decked out in KMH’s traditional green graduation gown and cap, she took her place on the auditorium stage amid the playing of “Pomp and Circumstance.” She was joined by school and Cobb School District officials, senior class officers and her best friend, who all donned caps and gowns.
The ceremony was held because Faith, who would be a rising senior, has already completed all of her graduation requirements — and because doctors do not know how much longer she will live with a brain stem tumor.
She was diagnosed her freshman year. However, Faith has been determined to receive her high school diploma in spite of her worsening health. On Sunday, dozens of family members and hundreds of other audience members, including students, teachers, and Kennesaw officials, witnessed Faith fulfill her goal.
Faith’s mother and stepfather, Kristina and Paul Boswell, as well as her siblings Jeremy Boswell, 22, Patience Cline, 15, and Isaac Cline, 12, have each had to make sacrifices in order to see the hope of Sunday’s ceremony become realized by Faith. That fact was evident by the tears Faith shed when she was handed her diploma. The audience roared in a standing ovation.
“It’s about time,” Faith said days before her graduation when asked how she felt about finally receiving her diploma.
The day after she was diagnosed on March 28, 2008, doctors told Faith that they planned to immediately admit her into a hospital. But that didn’t sit well with Faith, who was heavily involved in chorus and the Navy Junior Reserve Officers’ Training Corps at school. She was determined to be present for a JROTC annual military inspection the next day.
“She had not been upset to that point, even though they have told her she had a brain tumor,” recalled her mother. “And she proceeded to scream and holler because she said, ‘I will not miss school tomorrow. I’ve worked too hard. I am not missing school.’”
Faith stood for 2 ½ hours the following day during the inspection, Kristina Boswell said.
That’s one of many examples of Faith’s determination given by those who know her. Principal Dr. Kevin Daniel called her determination “contagious.” He said she lit up the entire campus when she showed up on the first day of school on Thursday.
Jo Anne Taylor, a school nurse who has grown close to her, said watching Faith over the past few years has personally changed her approach to life.
“As the time went on she gradually needed more help from me as a nurse with medications and other issues that she was experiencing,” remembered Taylor, the commencement speaker. “Never did I hear her complain, be bitter, depressed, or say ‘why me?’ She never hid the disease. She’s always been open and willing to tell the students what was going on with her.”
Faith’s brain tumor is inoperable, her family said. For treatment she has received radiation and chemotherapy. For much of her time in school she was able to attend classes most days of the week in a wheelchair, pushed by fellow students. On days she couldn’t, teachers sometimes visited her. Last spring, she was voted prom princess at school.
“She fought to go to school, even though she was in and out of the hospital and under treatment,” said her stepfather. “She’s an inspiration.”
In just the past couple of weeks Faith’s speech has become difficult to understand, said Kristina Boswell. Her family is aware that time is not on their side, though doctors gave her just 14 months to live after diagnosis and it’s now been nearly 25 months. Still, a wish list of roughly 10 things Faith wants to accomplish in life has become somewhat of a priority.
She has met her half-brother Noah; participated in a mission trip to South Carolina; fallen in love with cancer patient Evan Carswell, who died in March; cruised to the Caribbean; done something spontaneous by coloring her hair pink and green; skied in Utah; attended an Atlanta Braves game in a VIP section; graduated from high school; and made a difference in the world.
Meeting Carrie Underwood and watching her sister on American Idol are works in progress. The school, Make-A-Wish Foundation and other organizations have been responsible for making her dreams come true.
Faith’s yearbook quote is: “Never give up hope and you will do great things, I already know.” It has become words of inspiration for the entire school. For Faith, inspiration has been drawn from God, her mother, family and best friend, she said.
By Faith’s side, throughout her whole experience, has been her best friend since the sixth-grade, Summer Sheldon. She visits Faith everyday, has spent Christmas with her family and accompanied her to the recent Braves game.
“I wanted to tell you in front of all of our family and friends how proud I am of you. God couldn’t of have given me a better friend,” Summer said in a speech on Sunday.
“He knew I needed someone to talk to; someone to play softball and Super Mario Bros. with. He knew I needed someone to scope out the hot guys with — very important. You are the peanut to my butter, the peas to my carrots and the love to my bug. I think everyone would agree with me when I say you deserve this special day. Congratulations, I love you.”