HUDSON FALLS — As Kacey Sisco rose out of her wheelchair and into her walker, then stepped across the stage to receive her Hudson Falls High School diploma from Principal Jim Bennefield, the packed gymnasium burst into cheers and applause, then into a full-fledged standing ovation.
“It was crazy. It was surreal. I didn’t think I would be able to do it,” said Sisco, who was among 148 graduates. “I didn’t know if I was going to be able to do it.”
Sisco’s senior year started just like the rest of her classmates’, but according to her grandfather, Bob Rugar, she was diagnosed with leukemia on Oct. 2, and developed E. coli Oct. 28, which badly damaged her health and left her in a wheelchair.
“She only started walking in the last three weeks,” said Rugar, who was sitting with other family members, many wearing white T-shirts with Sisco’s picture on them. “She’s in remission now.”
Rugar said his granddaughter wants to be a nurse and work at the Albany hospital where she was treated.
“Oh, my goodness, I am so proud of her,” said Sisco’s mother, Tanya Barody. “This school has given so much support to her.”
Sisco’s father, Craig, said the day was a very emotional one.
“This is just an amazing community. People have done so much for Kacey,” he said. There were many fundraisers, and Sisco also benefited from the South Glens Falls Marathon Dance.
“Everyone has been great,” she said after graduation, sitting in her wheelchair on a bright, sunny morning with a big smile. “The school has done some much for me. All of the teachers have just been great.”
Principal Bennefield pointed out he had spent the past six years with the graduates, first as assistant principal at Hudson Falls Middle School, then as principal.
He said he would miss them, and he also noted that “Bosses will not take an excuse note from your mother.”
Valedictorian Hannah Mager explained to her classmates that the classes they took in school were really “lessons in life, disguised as classes.”
Superintendent Linda Goewey, who is finishing her first year, spoke to the students, as did Salutatorian Tanner Barton.
The ceremony included the announcement of scholarships. Students also received a flower from Athletic Director Burgess Ovitt, then had their tassel turned by Assistant Principal Danielle Kuba.
Earlier, as students waited in the hallway before marching into the gym, several of them talked about the teachers who had the greatest impact on them.
“For me, it was Mr. Thomas Vartuli,” Dusty Cleveland said of his physics teacher. “He just connects well with students, and he really connected with me over the outdoors and fishing.”
For Ryan Clary-Brown, that teacher was Heather Estep. “She’s the one who got me through here,” he said. “She really pushed me.”
For Kate Clouse, it was earth science teacher Kristopher Williams. “He inspired me to push myself,” she said.
Abby Colvin singled out history teacher Matt Rozell. “He’s probably one of the most inspiring people I have ever met,” she said.