STANLY COUNTY, N.C. – High School graduation is always one to remember. But a special graduation ceremony will be forever treasured by a local family and their surrounding community.
An outside bystander would never guess the crowd packed into West Stanly High School’s auditorium was there to hear only one graduate’s name announced: Cameron Brown.
As the 18-year-old crossed the stage in cap and gown, Cameron’s father Brian, beamed with pride. He was witnessing a pivotal moment in his son’s life, one he wasn’t sure he would be able to see.
Brian fell off a ladder in the summer of 2013 while helping a neighbor after a storm. The incident left him paralyzed. As he went into rehabilitation, Brian suffered “the widow maker,” a term referring to a specific type of medical situation when blood clots pass through the lungs. The medical emergency is known to have grave consequences.
The father and husband was hospitalized for 72 days straight. His wife and Cameron’s mother, Wendy, never left his side.
Yet, Brian’s health continued to deteriorate. Doctors told him in September 2016 he had six to 12 months to live.
“I remember coming home from school and I knew something was weird,” Cameron recalled. “Then they told me and I broke down… I just wanted to give him a hug and tell him how much he means to me.”
The Brown family is making the best of their situation. This isn’t the family’s first time dealing with tragedy. Cameron’s sister passed away last year.
“We believe it’s in God’s hands, no matter what the doctor says, our time isn’t up on earth until God calls us home,” Cameron said. “It’s making sure we stay close… it’s tough but without each other we can’t get very far.”
The idea to have an early graduation ceremony for Cameron came to West Stanly High School Principal Kim Page last Thursday.
“It was me and my secretary on a whim,” Page said. “We know the time is drawing near so we thought ‘let’s do this’ and in less than 24 hours we put it all together.”
Page says she is close with the Brown family and wanted to create the uplifting occasion for them.
“They have overcome so much, they’re picture perfect of every character word I’ve ever used with my students,” Page said. “This is what courage, perseverance and kindness look like… Cameron embodies every bit of that and all the kids got to see that walk across the stage.”
With Cameron and Wendy on board, Page and her secretary decided to bring them lunch and slyly bring up the idea with Brian.
“We said we needed Cameron to try on his cap and gown,” Page said. “I think Brian knew we were going to do something, but he didn’t know the extent of it.”
The surprise ceremony was a success. The event was attended by local community members including law enforcement officers and all the surrounding school's superintendents. Fellow students recited their favorite memories in lieu of a speech, making Cameron recall his most treasured memory.
“It just was going through my head that throughout high school my favorite memory was hearing my parents tell me they’re proud of me,” Cameron said. “That’s what I work for everyday.”
Cameron will graduate with his senior class in June, but having the opportunity to share the life-changing moment with his father, who he calls his superman, was extraordinary.
“For my Dad, I think it was really emotional,” Cameron said. “He was really excited to be there and see me in my gown and watch with all my family members.”
Cameron plans on attending Averett University in the fall. While leaving home may be difficult, Cameron says he feels he has family at the Virginia school. He will be a Cougar football player and has received letters of support, faith and encouragement from each of his soon-to-be coaches during this difficult time.