Head of the class
THS senior receives diploma during emotional ceremony
With a “thumbs up” sign, Tonganoxie High School senior Connor Olson let THS principal Jamie Carlisle know he was ready to receive his high school diploma.
Even though THS commencement exercises are scheduled for May 15, Olson received his diploma a month early, during a special ceremony Thursday.
Olson has been battling bone cancer for about a year. It started in his right leg. His right leg and foot were removed because of the cancer. Then the cancer attacked his lungs and a hip. On April 11, Olson suffered a stroke, according to THS athletics director Brandon Parker.
But Thursday, wearing a THS red cap and gown, Olson received his diploma in front of a capacity audience at the Tonganoxie Performing Arts Center on the THS campus.
“He has earned the right to walk across this stage today,” the principal said.
With help from friend Ben Myers, Olson entered the auditorium in a wheelchair, to the strains of “Pomp and Circumstance.” Olson also was flanked by a host of other friends: Dane Gonser, Jeremie Maus, Nic Irick, Patrick Rachford, Tyler Bartholomew, Devin Botts and Quinten Olson. The group then collectively carried Olson in his chair up a set of stairs to the stage.
A photo slide show told a story of Olson and Myers and other friends through the years. Though he did not speak during the ceremony, footage of Olson previously being asked questions about Tonganoxie was shown.
“Tonganoxie, Kansas, has to be one of the strongest and most resilient communities I know,” Olson said.
A few weeks after Olson’s diagnosis last year, then-THS senior Austin Stone was hospitalized following an incident during a routine dental procedure that left him legally blind, hard of hearing and with limited use of gross motor skills. Days later, another THS student, Jeremy Elliott, died in his sleep from a heart condition. And during that time, another student, Jake Ostermeyer, was in need of a kidney transplant.
Team Tongie — a service group that raises funds for students and their families who are battling serious illnesses — was established soon after.
In the taped interview, Olson said Tonganoxie was “his little corner of heaven” and that a person can always find the positives in everything.
At the ceremony, classmate Lindsey Fatherley said Olson often had “raised the roof” for his classmates. She asked those in the audience to do the same for Olson. The crowd obliged, hooping and hollering for him.
Shortly after Carlisle announced that Olson had met all requirements to graduate from THS, Myers helped Olson across the stage. And after Olson received his diploma and shook hands with THS officials, Myers lifted Olson's tassel from left to right.
His friend officially graduated.
In a hallway outside the auditorium after the graduation, Carlisle told Olson, “I used to be your principal. I guess I’m not your principal anymore. Congratulations, man, I’m proud of you. I’m proud of you.”
And though Olson couldn’t attend his prom Saturday, classmates wore orange ribbons in his honor. Some also have been wearing plastic orange bracelets that are inscribed with “Cure For Connor.” Parker said orange is a favorite color of Olson’s.
In addition, students wore ribbons with a “J” attached to them in memory of Jeremy Elliott at prom.