PEMBROKE — Graduation Day couldn’t get here fast enough for the Danielle Burns, a mother whose dying wish was to watch her children graduate from high school.
Thanks to the Public Schools of Robeson County, it came true.
Danielle’s daughter, Jaden Allen, 17, and Braxton Burns, 18, the son of Danielle’s husband, David Burns, graduated from Purnell Swett High school on Monday at Scotland Regional Hospice House in Laurinburg, where Danielle is living as a hospice patient, suffering with breast cancer.
The Public Schools of Robeson County arranged the graduation ceremony so Danielle could see her children with their diplomas.
Burns first fought breast cancer in 2013, and now it has returned and spread into her bones. It was uncertain that she would live long enough to see Jaden and Braxton receive their diplomas during the June 8 graduation ceremony at the high school.
Superintendent Shanita Wooten was contacted by Danielle Burns’ family on Saturday night about possibly arranging an early graduation ceremony for Jaden and Braxton.
“We didn’t think twice about it. We knew children were involved and were thinking of their best interest. They will always remember that Ms. Danielle shared this moment with them,” Wooten said.
“Most people say they don’t care, but this shows they care,” Jaden said.
The graduation at Hospice House was staged just as it will be at Givens Performing Art Center on the University of North Carolina at Pembroke campus. The national anthem was performed, and flowers and awards were handed out. Danielle, bedridden, was positioned in the room so she could watch everyone enter, including the students.
“We knew without a doubt we would make it happen,” Wooten said. “We are here to serve. Children are and will always be why we show up each day.”
The graduation ceremony also included scriptures from the Bible, just as Danielle and David Burns wanted because faith is a big part of their family, said Niki Hammonds, who worked with Danielle at Scotland Memorial Hospital.
Purnell Swett High School Principal Clyde Leviner shared words of inspiration with the graduates as tears flowed in the room, Hammonds said.
“Danielle’s faith is bigger than anything I have ever seen and she has taught me more about God’s work and serving others,” Hammonds said. “It is an honor to be a willing vessel to serve and do for her and the family.”
Braxton said the special graduation ceremony “gives you a sense that anything is possible, with God.”
The two graduates plan to attend college. Danielle and David Burns also have a son, Dylan Allen, who is a freshman at The University of North Carolina at Pembroke.
Jaden said the graduation ceremony was a “goal of my mother’s and it touched her heart that she achieved it.” Her mother is her hero, Jaden said.
Braxton said his mother always tells him and his sister to “never doubt God, and she has never been afraid of her journey.”