Late graduation sparks school pride
Traditionally, homecoming week at Tonganoxie High School is filled with fun events that are geared to fill the students with school spirit.
But this year, there was one particular homecoming event that filled the walls of the high school to the brim with Chieftain pride: Austin Stone was coming back to get his diploma.
“It means a lot to me,” Stone said about having the entire student body present for his special graduation ceremony Thursday. “It does a lot of good for me.”
In March, Stone was hospitalized after complications arose from medical gas he received while having his wisdom teeth removed. The incident left him blind, hard of hearing and has caused problems with his speech. It also left his time at THS incomplete because he was not able to graduate with the class of 2009 this past May.
Although Lance Stone, Austin’s father, was able to make it to the commencement ceremony to accept the diploma on his son’s behalf, he gave it back because he wanted Stone to get it.
“When his dad walked across the stage – no offense Lance – that just wasn’t good enough for us,” Jamie Carlisle, THS principal, said during the commencement ceremony. “We just wanted Austin to do it for us.”
A little more than a week ago, Stone came back from the Madonna Rehabilitation Hospital in Lincoln, Neb.
Carlisle said one of the first things Stone did when he got back was contact the principal and tell him he wanted to get his diploma.
Secret plans were made to give Stone the graduation he was never able to have. The plan was kept secret to most of the student body. On Thursday, students thought they were just going to be a part of a homecoming assembly at the Tonganoxie Performing Arts Center until they saw their teachers proceed down the aisle in their graduation gowns followed by Stone. Stone was wearing his red graduation gown and mortarboard and had his father at his side, guiding him onto the stage.
Some students started cheering, some students started crying, but every student was standing, giving Stone a thundering ovation.
Jeremy Carlisle, Jamie Carlisle’s son and one of Stone’s friends, said he and many other people have been waiting for this event to happen.
DJ Lindsay, another one of Stone’s close friends, was also glad this moment came.
“He can get through anything he wants,” Lindsay said. “He might not be big, but he’s the toughest guy there is. Nothing is going to bring him down.”
It seemed like Stone’s spirits were high.
During the ceremony Stone was asked to say a few words to the student body. Stone asked Jeremy Carlisle, Lindsay and Bret Koch – the other members of the 4x400 relay team with whom Stone once ran – to stand up.
“I want all of you guys to look around and if you haven’t met these guys, walk up to them in the hallways and shake their hands because they’re a great group of guys… except DJ, he’s a little weird sometimes,” Stone joked.
Lance Stone said Austin is still in the process of recovering. He said his son is doing better than expected, but they are still taking things one day at a time.
Now that he has his diploma, Stone said he has plans to attend South Dakota State University and study wildlife biology.