Dad Dying of Cancer Gets to See His Son Graduate 2 Hours Before His Last Breath
The student's principal says of the "life-changing" experience, "I know he’ll never forget that"
A North Carolina father’s dying wish was to see his son graduate from high school — and it came true just two hours before his death on May 10.
Travis Grimsley, 18, was set to graduate with the rest of his senior class in late May, but then a group of people stepped up so that Ronald Grimsley, 54, could watch his son accept his diploma.
Ronald had been moved to Lower Cape Fear Hospice in Bolivia, North Carolina because doctors felt he only had a few days to live. When staffers there heard about Travis’ upcoming graduation, they sprang into action.
“I knew his dad was dying of cancer, so I called the school to see what we could pull together,” clinical nurse manager Sandy Duncan tells PEOPLE.
Adds Rhonda Benton, the principal at West Brunswick High School: “I’ve been in administration for 22 years and we’d never done anything like this, but it’s all about the kids and the impact you can have, so we knew we had to make it happen.”
Benton reached out to some of Travis’ favorite teachers, while back at Lower Cape Fear Hospice, Duncan worked with a handful of staffers to get decorations for the hospital room. They got “2019” signs and a podium and even tracked down a recording of the “Pomp and Circumstance” music.
“It was very exciting and so heartfelt. It was really emotional and so special that we were able to make this happen for this young man and his family,” Duncan says.
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On the morning of May 10, a small group of family and friends gathered in Ronnie’s room. Travis put on his cap and gown and marched down the hall of the hospice center and into his dad’s room, where his principal handed him his diploma.
Benton tells PEOPLE, “It’s the most moving experience I’ve ever been a part of. I always tear up when I hear ‘Pomp and Circumstance,’ but when he came down the hallway and got to the door of his dad’s room and he started crying, we all started crying.”
Travis told NBC affiliate WECT, “He just looked up and smiled. I knew he was so happy.”
His dad died just two hours later.
“This was life-changing for Travis. I know he’ll never forget that,” Benton says of the special graduation ceremony.
“It was very emotional, very touching,” Duncan says. “We were all tired after, emotionally and physically, but we did the right thing.”