UTMB Children's Hospital staff plan surprise high school graduation ceremony for patient

Jul 17, 2017, 09:22 AM by KirstiAnn Clifford
Taylor Deluna holds her diploma after being surprised by UTMB Children’s Hospital staff.
When young patients stay at UTMB Children’s Hospital, important milestones such as birthdays, last days of chemotherapy and even high school graduations don’t go uncelebrated.

So when Taylor Deluna, a senior at Ball High School in Galveston, became a UTMB Children’s Hospital patient for several days—including the day of her high school graduation— nursing and medical staff took notice.

“The hospital can be an intimidating place for anyone, especially for children and teenagers, so we want to make sure they feel special while they are here,” said Lizette Perez, a certified child life specialist at UTMB. “When we found out Taylor was going to miss her high school graduation, we knew we needed to organize a celebration. It’s such an important day in any young person’s life and Taylor was no exception.”

Perez and several colleagues, including Kathleen Lund, Eza Calzada, Jourdan Pea, Liz Kiamar, Sandra Andrews, Laurie Clendenen and Pediatric Nurse Manager Shana Steege, got permission from Deluna’s family to put their heads together to plan a surprise graduation.

No detail was overlooked: A banner was made and signed by all the nurses, doctors and staff. Organizers bought gifts and cards and made a diploma. They ordered pizza. Sandra Low with the UTMB Campus Store even steamed-pressed a cap and gown and donated a 2017 tassel for Deluna to wear on her graduation walk down the hall.

When it was time to reveal the surprise, Perez led Taylor to the other end of the hospital unit, where her cap and gown were waiting.

An honorary high school diploma was presented to Deluna by Dr. Lemuel Aigbivbalu and staff. “I told her, ‘We would like you to put this on because we know you won’t be able to walk with your friends, but we want to make you feel extra special,’” said Perez. “She almost started to cry, and I almost did, too! But she got dressed, turned the corner, and we played ‘Pomp and Circumstance’ as she walked down the hall, which was lined with a large cheering section of doctors, nurses, residents and staff. At the end of the hallway, her family was waiting with the big banner and diploma. It was awesome— everyone really pitched in and made it all come together.”

Deluna said the celebration lifted her spirits when she needed it most.

“I felt 10 times better. It was a complete surprise to me—apparently everyone was in on it except me,” laughed Deluna, who plans on attending Galveston Community College before applying to a university and pursuing a journalism degree.

Her grandmother, Debbie Gast, teared up just talking about the celebration.Deluna and her grandparents read a card from UTMB staff.

“The look on Taylor’s face when she came walking down the hall— she was just glowing and smiling ear to ear—it was amazing,” Gast said. “The people who work here are so full of compassion and they really do care; I’ve never seen anything like it anywhere. They are our extended family now.”

The celebration is something Deluna and her family won’t forget anytime soon, and neither will Perez and her colleagues, who were happy to make her graduation day special—no matter where it took place.

“I’m so glad Taylor felt special and honored because she deserves to be recognized for all her hard work,” said Perez. “She is a talented young lady and I know she will do great things.”