About 20 family members of Yeatise Gaines were on hand last Wednesday for the ceremony for the Kalamazoo Central High School student, who died Thursday following recurrent bouts of cancer.
Commencement was scheduled for June 4, so Principal Valerie Boggan and several other faculty members arranged the ceremony after it was known that she might not live that long. Students also are working to determine how to honor her at commencement, Boggan said.
"It was her dream to graduate high school, and she did," Boggan said. "For her family, it wasn't sad. They were celebrating."
Santasha Gaines said her daughter was "just amazing." She was diagnosed with cancer at 18 months and the disease recurred when she was 2, 8 and 12 years old, Gaines said.
Cancer treatments also compromised her health, Gaines said, and she lived with severe pain and had lung failure.
"Her health was always bad," Gaines said. "She was always in pain."
Despite that, Gaines and high school staff described Yeatise as cheerful and determined to make the most of her life. Rudy Sledge, a Kalamazoo teacher who works with students at home, was Yeatise's tutor when she was too ill to attend school.
"She was a very focused young lady," Sledge said. "She took school very seriously. She always completed her work and had that drive to do well."
Yeatise's positive attitude was impressive, Sledge said, and she said she learned much from her student.
"What she taught me was that you run the race that is set before you, and you do it with grace and perseverance and a good attitude," Sledge said. "That's what she did, and that's what I learned from her."
Visitation is from 5-6 p.m. Friday at Whitley Funeral Home in Kalamazoo. A memorial service begins at 1 p.m. Saturday at Second Baptist Church in Kalamazoo.
The Kalamazoo Central team in Relay for Life of Kalamazoo County on May 30 is dedicating this year's effort to her.