Pomp for the circumstance: St. Jude patient gets surprise college graduation parade

It wasn’t the college graduation Madison was expecting. But how can you really anticipate a surprise 30–car procession cruising by your house, with horns beeping, streamers fluttering, balloons bopping and well-wishers leaning out of windows offering their congrats at 90 decibels?

It wasn’t the college graduation Madison was expecting. But how can you really anticipate a surprise 30–car procession cruising by your house, with horns beeping, streamers fluttering, balloons bopping and well-wishers leaning out of windows offering their congrats at 90 decibels?

Madison

But these, of course, aren’t typical times and Madison isn’t your typical college graduate. Around the country, graduation celebrations have taken a creative turn, many digital. This particular one just happens to have a special spin to it.

“Dad, I’m disappointed,” Madison told her father in March, when it was announced there would be no commencement ceremony at her college. “But I’ve been through worse.”

The worse for Madison was stage II Hodgkins lymphoma.

Now comes the better. Family, friends and neighbors all revved up and appropriately socially distanced, of course, to celebrate Madison’s accomplishment, which was as much about beating the odds as it was finishing her studies.

“Wait, what is that coming this way?” Madison asked as the convoy rumbled down the road. Then she spots the balloons and the signs, some handmade, and one big LED one flashing CONGRATS MADISON in tall letters. “Oh my gosh. This is all for me?”

It was, from the pickup truck to the tiny car and everything in between. Leading off the motorcade were Madison’s grandparents.

And there was her Aunt Cammie, a St. Jude patient herself in the 1980s, followed by the family friend, a nurse, who made the connection with St. Jude possible for Madison.

Several people Madison knows from St. Jude were next in line, each sending their love and a promise to catch up post- COVID-19.

Off to the side of the action stands Jude, Madison’s dog and near-constant companion with her custom bandanna made just for the occasion: She did it, it exclaims.

With each passing car, the magnitude of the moment sinks in for Madison.

“This may be more overwhelming than my no more chemo party,” she said, referring to the celebration St. Jude holds for patients on the day of their last treatment.

What Madison doesn’t mention right away is that she just became the first person in her family to receive a college diploma. It is a proud moment for her parents, her dad holding back tears as he waves to the passing parade.

Madison’s mom, who has been cheering on the caravan with golden pompons in hand, thanks the tail end of the parade as they head off down the road.

Madison’s father walks over to her and whispers something in her ear. She nods, tears welling up in her eyes as she smiles over at their daughter.

Madison joins her parents in a lingering hug. A family that wasn’t sure five years ago if they would ever see this moment was able to feel the sun shine brightly on them today.

“I’m here. I got to celebrate with my family, and that may be even better than a ceremony,” Madison said. “It’s hard not to have a positive outlook on life.”

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