WAVERLY, Neb. — A student from Nebraska who died after a long illness will be recognized at her high school’s graduation ceremony, thanks to a compromise between the senior class and school administrators.
A statement released Thursday by Waverly High School’s senior class said it will observe a moment of silence for 17-year-old McKenna Smith and her family at the start of the commencement ceremony Sunday. A purple floral arrangement on the main stage will also commemorate McKenna. She died in July from an incurable degenerative brain disease called juvenile Huntington’s disease.
School officials rejected students’ original idea of leaving a chair empty at the ceremony for McKenna, citing a policy provision deeming inappropriate memorials “which may alter the conduct of a regular school instruction day, school activities or the school activities schedule.”
The rejection received backlash. Amy Dickes, McKenna’s mom, said she posted about the issue on social media and received comments on the post. A group of Waverly alums also threatened to bring their own chair to the ceremony in McKenna’s honor.
School administrators and seniors worked together, eventually finding common ground to honor McKenna.
“We’re not asking for much, just a little remembrance of her,” Smith’s aunty Leticia Sherman said.
Dickes said she thinks the media coverage and social media comments may have influenced the school district’s decision to compromise.
“The circumstances surrounding graduation have been difficult,” the senior statement said. “However, it has brought us together, and it has validated the power of our positive culture. Throughout this process our senior class has been united behind our school, our administration and each other.”