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St. Jude kindergarteners celebrate resilience and recess at 2023 graduation

St. Jude video

By Kerry Goff

In the 15th year of kindergarten graduations, St. Jude Imagine Academy by Chili’s kindergarteners were honored as part of a virtual ceremony. They received mortarboards, graduation robes and tassels, along with other gifts.

Each graduate shared a video to commemorate their achievement and where they hope to go in the future. Aspiring police officers, lifeguards, astronauts, soldiers, builders and pilots were part of the mix of desired occupations. There were also occupations that closely reflected their experiences at St. Jude: a desire to be teachers, nurses and doctors (with one who stressed singing as a backup option).  

The graduates said ABCs and math were their favorite subjects but eating lunch and playing with friends at recess ranked highest. 

“It’s time to turn the page on another school year,” said Michaela Shurden, kindergarten through fifth grade teacher. “I want to thank the teachers of these special students today. Not only did you teach them to read and write, but you also taught them the importance of kindness and friendship.”

President and CEO James R. Downing, MD, offered congratulations and praise. “Kindergarten is such a special time in the life of a child. It’s a time where they meet new friends and teachers and start to realize a life outside of their immediate family. It’s a time of exploration, learning and fun.”

Downing said he remembered his own kindergarten days like they were yesterday. “I met other children who turned into lifelong friends. I started to get a sense of who I was, what I enjoyed and what I was good at.”

What makes this achievement more significant, Downing said, is that each child’s journey is complicated by their diagnosis and the parallel journey they must go through to overcome their disease.

“The St. Jude staff, from teachers and nurses to child life specialists and doctors, all support your child in both of these journeys, and we share in your happiness,” Downing said to the graduates’ families. “Parents, hold dear this moment and know we stand shoulder-to-shoulder with you to help you and your child along their journey to a long and joy-filled life.”

Alli Leslie, School Program head, offered inspiration for the graduates before their teachers announced heartfelt congratulations: “Be bold enough to use your voice, brave enough to listen to your heart and strong enough to live the life you always imagined.”