An Arizona high school is facing criticism after not permitting cancer survivor Stephen Dwyer to sit on the field for the Class of 2016's graduation ceremony on Thursday.
Dwyer, 18, was forced to withdraw from school his junior year while undergoing treatment for acute lymphoblastic leukemia, the Associated Press reports. He is two-and-a-half credits short of graduating and will finish high school in December.
Because Dwyer has yet to complete all of his credits, Dobson High School and Mesa Public Schools administrators declined his request to sit on the field in a cap and gown alongside his classmates at graduation. Dwyer, who was the student body president, was allowed to lead the seniors onto the field but had to sit in the stands afterward and wear regular clothes.
In a statement from Dwyer was posted on the "Dwyer Strong" Facebook page on Wednesday, Dwyer described how he took online classes to make up the classes he missed while undergoing treatment. He was able to rejoin the varsity swim team soon after his recovery and was appointed president of both the student body and the National Honor Society. He also expressed his sadness at not being able to join his classmates on the field.
"Students who are put in situations like mine are stranded on an island away from all the other normal teenagers," he wrote. "We are drawn away from all the great things that make high school enjoyable. We are in isolation physically and emotionally. One week we're in the hospital. The next we are just too tired or self-conscious to go to the dance, the game or the party. We miss out on so much and have no choice but to sit at home and observe on social media. That fact that I am not allowed to walk with my class is again putting me on that island."
He continued: "I never asked to receive a diploma and am even okay with not walking across that stage or having my name called. I just want to be a part of the ceremony as one of my peers would be. I want to sit on the field in cap and gown, walk in the same line and throw my cap in the air as we all celebrate what we have accomplished. Most people I speak to believe I've accomplished far more than what is required to graduate."
At Thursday's ceremony, Dwyer led his classmates onto the field before joining his family in the stands. Afterwards, he was allowed to don a cap and gown to take pictures with his peers.
According to the AP, Mesa Public Schools spokeswoman Helen Hollands defended the school district's decision in a written statement.
"Each year, the district has a number of students who due to their personal hardships have not earned the minimum number of credits required to graduate," Hollands said. "These students do not participate in a graduation ceremony before successfully earning a diploma."