BRISTOL, Virginia (WJHL) — Most 2021 graduation ceremonies have already passed, but one more special than most was hosted Friday at Viviant Healthcare of Bristol.
A Bristol family knew they were running out of time to make a wish come true for Charles Burnett, 91.
“He always told me and my parents he wanted to hold on until my graduation,” said Burnett’s grandson Chandler Kreeger.
Kreeger loves his grandfather dearly and has always looked up to him as a role model. He is a rising senior at Virginia High School and will not actually graduate until 2022, but he donned a cap and gown Friday for a special ceremony.
Charles Burnett has dementia and is on hospice care, with declining health. For him, this early graduation is right on time.
“We don’t think he will make it next year. We wanted to make sure this is a last big memory he will be able to have and Chandler will always remember,” said Sinda Canter, admissions director for VHB.
Charles’ wife Bonnie says he has been dreaming of this moment since Chandler was a little boy.
“From the time he started school he said, ‘I just pray I can live to see you graduate from high school,'” said Bonnie Burnett.
Canter worked with Kreeger and his family members to put on a graduation ceremony that would put all others to shame.
Kreeger got to walk in a procession to pomp and circumstance, hear a graduation speech, and receive his “diploma.”
Other members of Viviant Healthcare walked with Kreeger to make the ceremony feel more official.
“To see him here and to bring the graduation to him, it’s something that made everybody cry, it made me cry and I’m not ashamed to say that,” said Kreeger.
Bonnie Burnett says though her husband has dementia, he knew exactly what was happening before him.
“He was alert enough, you could tell when he saw Chandler, his eyes just lit up,” she said.
Kreeger will enter his senior year this fall knowing no matter what happens, he will never be robbed of this special moment.
“I know it’s not real and everything like that. But it still feels real. All the emotion with my grandfather and everyone else in here, it makes you feel a little bit better,” said Kreeger.
This young man knows loss too well. Chandler Kreeger lost his mother last year to cancer. He and his family understand the importance of those final days, as they soak them in with Charles.
“He needed this. He needed this memory of Grandad,” said Bonnie Burnett.