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Bittersweet Graduation

It was a graduation ceremony no one will ever forget, for a teenage girl no one will ever forget.

Brandi Marsh, a senior at Brookland-Cayce High School outside Columbia, S.C., is battling terminal cancer. An active, well-known student, she hasn't been able to attend the first weeks of class this year. So her school and her very own graduation ceremony—pomp, circumstance, and all—came to her.

Nearly 200 people filled the auditorium at Palmetto Richland Memorial Hospital last month to watch her receive her diploma. Faculty members and district leaders wore formal gowns. Ms. Marsh, 18, wore a burgundy cap and gown. A reception was held in the hospital atrium.

"Brandi's lifelong dream was to graduate," Principal Allison M. Batten said.

The idea for the Aug. 27 ceremony began when Ms. Marsh's minister got in touch with the school. Knowing the severity of her illness, the minister asked if the staff could provide a recognition of some kind, in lieu of a diploma.

Ms. Batten discovered that Ms. Marsh had met all the requirements for a student employability training diploma that Lexington County School District 2 offers some of its students. Ms. Marsh was studying medical careers and had worked in the cafeteria and library.

Ready to award her a bona fide diploma, the principal asked a teacher to come and play graduation music. The teacher brought a student chorus. Then the Army Junior ROTC instructor heard about the plans, and since Ms. Marsh was in the class, he offered students to present the colors and salute her. The ceremony just kept growing.

Parents Julian and Victoria Marsh and Brandi's big brother, C.J., watched as the graduation unfolded.

"Anybody who talks to her can see how special she is," the principal said. "She's just touched so many lives."

Now that so many people outside the school know Brandi Marsh, she's touched many more.

Vol. 21, Issue 2, Page 3

Published in Print: September 12, 2001, as Take Note

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