Filled with the anticipation and excitement that only the end of the school year can bring, 37 high school seniors participated in Memorial Sloan Kettering’s 10th annual pediatric convocation on June 9. The graduates — part of the 80 across the nation who were at some time in their young lives treated for pediatric cancer at MSK and are finishing high school this year — traveled from as far away as Oregon to commemorate this milestone achievement with family members and MSK staff in MSK’s Rockefeller Research Laboratories auditorium.
Andrew Witmer, 18, vividly remembers being diagnosed with a brain tumor at age 8. Now, ten years later, he gave a speech at convocation that his fellow graduates could appreciate.
“I have learned that it is incredibly important to approach the world with a sense of humor, a passion for achievement, and to find a path through adversity when others may be in doubt,” he said.
Andrew, who attended the Benjamin School in North Palm Beach, Florida, will head to Princeton University in the fall.
Mikaella Julia Granzen, a graduate of Princeton High School in Princeton, New Jersey, also spoke. The Wesleyan University–bound 18-year-old reflected on integrating her past, present, and future in the wake of a cancer diagnosis.
“While my experience certainly granted me the greater perspective that comes with going through a very adult situation at a very young age, if anything it made me that much more driven to not allow my past to control my present.”
In his keynote address, Richard O’Reilly, Chair of the Department of Pediatrics, urged the graduates to “break some rules, take some risks, indulge your instincts, and try something just because it feels right for you.”
A Time for Celebration
Two weeks earlier, fancy dresses and suits, crowns, and tiaras marked a big day for MSK’s youngest patients and their families — the Department of Pediatrics’ annual pediatric prom. About 300 guests of all ages enjoyed the photo booth, face-painting, and DJ spinning top 40 hits at the May 26 event. Guests mingled with members of their care teams and indulged in their favorite foods, including pigs in a blanket, ice cream, and soda.
Of course, no prom would be complete without a king and a queen — but at MSK, it’s the grown-ups who wear the crowns. This year’s prom king was Facility Operations Manager Scott Riedman; prom queen was Program Manager Rachel Corke. Both were honored for their dedication to young patients.
“Prom is my favorite event of the year because it is all about celebration and fun,” Ms. Corke said. “Being crowned prom queen was such an honor and privilege. It was great to look out onto the dance floor to see hundreds of smiling faces!”
It’s been quite a memorable 2016 for the Department of Pediatrics, which last month was featured on the social media phenomenon Humans of New York. The campaign raised more than $3 million for pediatric cancer research and family assistance programs at MSK.