Get the latest from TODAY
These selfless students aren’t done giving — not by a longshot.
Since the seniors at Profile Junior-Senior High School surprised their cancer-stricken principal with the $8,000 they were going to spend on their class trip, their story touched people around the nation and thousands of dollars have been pledged to allow them to take their getaway.
But the 41 seniors at the small public school in Bethlehem, New Hampshire, aren’t having any of it. They are directing the money to their beloved principal, Courtney Vashaw, to help with her treatment and recovery from a rare form of soft tissue cancer, synovial sarcoma, and to fund cancer research.
“We want to continue to raise awareness about cancer, especially her type of cancer, and to help her as much as we can,” salutatorian Leanza Hunt, 17, told TODAY.com Thursday night. “We don’t want to take this for ourselves.”
“We want all of the money we get from this attention to go to her and her cancer,” she added. “We’re excited and thankful for the donations that we are receiving because it’s going to help others.”
Vashaw, 37, learned she had cancer in early May but delayed telling her students as long as she could while they were busy with exams, finally sharing the devastating news last week at an emotional meeting.
On Tuesday, the tight-knit seniors gathered to tell her they were skipping their three-day trip to a New York dude ranch and emptying their class treasury for her, opting for a smaller trip close to home instead.
By Friday morning, the school had received $3,000 in checks plus pledges totaling nearly $20,000 for the students to take a trip, said school secretary Lisa Peckett, who has been fielding phone calls with offers and working with the students. There have also been offers from recreation spots to welcome the students for free, she said. “We’ve had range of offers for cash to come to our place and stay with us here,” Peckett said.
“The students want it to be well known they do not want anything for them,” Peckett said Friday. “None of this is for them. It was never about them. It was always about Courtney.”
“They made a strong statement they want it to go into Ms. Vashaw’s funds,” she said.
Vashaw said by email Thursday night she was “completely overwhelmed at the outpouring of support for me and my amazing students.” She had talked with the seniors and knew they were planning to take a local trip.
“I am astounded, again and again, at how humble they are being,” she wrote. “They truly are remarkable.”
One of the online fundraisers was created by Alex LaCasse, a Seattle teacher who has no connection to Profile but felt that the students deserved a trip after their generous act.
“It kind of confirmed what I have experienced as a teacher, that students today are so compassionate, and so willing to give,” said LaCasse, 27, who teaches seventh and eighth grade at a private Jesuit school and feels kids often get a bad rap as being selfish.
LaCasse, who has been in touch with the students, says they can use the money however they like.
“Their primary focus is clearly on their principal and not on a class trip,” he said Thursday. “That’s where their heart is right now. It’s just amazing and it speaks to their humility and grace in this difficult situation.”
This weekend, instead of the dude ranch, the seniors will go to a local campground, with activities like zip lining and meals donated from nearby businesses, Peckett said.
“We knew our kids were special and we knew our principal was special but for the rest of the world to know, it blows our minds that we can share this with people and let people know that kids are capable of good things,” Peckett said.
Students have lauded Vashaw for her support and care over their six years at her school, and it say it was an easy decision to miss their senior outing and send the donations her way.
“She’s given everything she can to us and she would do anything for us,” Hunt said. “We wanted to be able to help her too.”
Lisa A. Flam, a regular contributor to TODAY.com, is a news and lifestyles reporter in New York. Follow her on Twitter.