A teen was honored in a high school graduation ceremony two years early, so his dying father could witness his future achievement.
In January 2023, father of three Leon Deane was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. "It was already in Stage 4 when they found it," Leon, 50, tells TODAY.com. "They told me in the beginning that it would probably claim my life."
Leon and his wife Martha were high school sweethearts, marrying at ages 19 and 18, respectfully. Together, they raised three sons, Leon, 30, Arron, 24 and Ewan, 17, in Pioneer, Tennessee.
The dad, who is in hospice care, was given an estimated lifespan of several months. "I'm still there, so we're taking it one day at a time," he says.
“It’s been rough, mentally it’s hard to deal with ... you’re not living fully like you should,” he says. “We’re trying to make the most of it and get everything taken care of.”
With Ewan a junior at Jellico High School, he won't graduate for another two years.
"Martha wondered if Ewan's school could do an early graduation ceremony for him, so a friend made the call," says Deane. "The next day, they told her, 'We'll do it tomorrow.'"
On August 30, students gathered at Jellico High School, with Leon sitting in the front row. As "Pomp and Circumstance" played over the loudspeaker, Ewan walked to the podium, wearing his blue cap and gown.
"Today is the day that the Jellico High School and all the communities that represent our school come together to support a student and family in a solemn season of life," said principal Joey St. John in a live-streamed recording of the ceremony posted on Facebook. "To be straightforward with everyone in this room, we are gathered here today to honor the wish of a father to see his son, that he dearly loves, complete a milestone in his life."
"The hopes and dreams of his father's heart, longs to see May 16, 2025, come to pass and see his son graduate ... today, we're going to push forward in time and allow this father's physical body to see today what his heart sees in the future," added St. John.
Ewan took the stage, where he was declared an honorary high school graduate in the class of 2025.
"I was nervous, excited and also sad that we had to go through this," Ewan, who is currently being homeschooled in order to spend more time with his dad, tells TODAY.com.
The school offered Ewan and his family a graduation cake and a restaurant dinner.
"It was a great experience to see people in the community coming together," says Leon. "Ewan is the most disciplined and respectful person around. He’s a good kid."
Ewan thinks the world of his dad.
"He's a funny, kind and loving dad," he says. "He was always there for us."