(BLANCHARD, Okla.) — Most high schoolers graduate in May or June but for one Oklahoma teen, commencement came a little early this school year.
Caleb Woodrum, a senior at Blanchard High School in Blanchard, Oklahoma, graduated on March 28 in an early ceremony held at the hospital bedside of his mother Stacie Scyrkels.
Blanchard High School Principal Greg Jackson was there to pronounce the 18-year-old a graduate, surrounded by his family members and the staff at Integris Health Southwest Medical Center in Oklahoma City.
“There wasn’t a dry eye in that room,” Jackson recalled to “Good Morning America.”
Woodrum told “GMA” his mom had an atrial septal defect and for the last decade had lived with congestive heart failure and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. For the past six years, he had been taking care of her and bringing her to her doctor’s appointments too.
He knew his mom wasn’t doing well but said he didn’t realize how much worse it had gotten until he called his mom’s hospital on March 27.
“She didn’t really tell anyone. She just wanted us to be strong,” Woodrum said.
When Woodrum and his family talked to his mom’s care team, one of her nurses mentioned they hoped to plan an impromptu graduation ceremony for him and his mom.
The unexpected event all came together in less than 24 hours, according to Christina Hopkins, a registered nurse at Integris who helped care for Scyrkels. They teamed up to bring the ceremony to life because the nursing team said Scyrkels, who was in intensive care, would likely not be able to live until May.
“Kati Crouch — she is the respiratory therapist that had been taking care of her for a while on her rotations and Stacie had mentioned to her that she just wanted to be able to make it to May to be able to see her youngest son graduate from high school,” Hopkins explained to “GMA.”
“I said, ‘OK,’ and I absolutely ran with it immediately,” the nurse continued. “I put out a Facebook post and said ‘Hey friends and family if you have any graduation decorations or supplies that you would like to donate, urgent request, I need them as soon as possible.'”
In addition to decorations and food, the Integris staff contacted Blanchard High School and Jackson said he was more than happy to accommodate the unusual request.
“We said, ‘Sure.’ We didn’t know whether she wanted us next week, week after and I think that’s when it hit home is when the nurse said, ‘Well, no, we need to do this tomorrow,'” Jackson recounted. “So we did [the] same thing anyone else would do. We grabbed a cap and gown and a diploma and we got it set up and went to Integris Southwest on Tuesday at noon and granted her wish.”
Woodrum said he is grateful he and his late mom and their loved ones were able to share such a special moment together.
“It was very surreal. It was something that I couldn’t have imagined … but I’m glad that I did get to make that memory with her,” he said.
Afterward, the mother and son duo, who held hands during the ceremony, shared an emotional hug, something Hopkins remembered vividly.
“The hug that she gave her son took a lot out of her. But she did it and she persevered because that’s what she wanted. You can see the love pouring out of her in that moment,” Hopkins said.
Woodrum said that when he went in for the hug, his mother “told me she loves me and never to forget it. And I told her I will not.”
Both Hopkins and Jackson said the early commencement went off without a hitch.
“I’m so proud of Caleb for what he accomplished and what we were able to give to him and to her especially and I’m so proud to be a part of that team,” Hopkins said.
Added Jackson, “We’re just glad we got it done for him, something he’ll remember forever, that moment with his mother.”
Scyrkels died the day after her son’s early graduation on March 29, which also happened to be her 57th birthday.
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