Grab the Tissues, These Truly Inspiring Graduates Will Bless you


It’s June and graduations are everywhere we look. We wanted to celebrate unorthodox graduations that are guaranteed to warm your heart.


Graduation season is upon us, bringing celebrations of the academic accomplishments of the students in our lives. As much as we love seeing young people earn degrees and venture out beyond their schools, we wanted to expand the definition of “graduation.”

We’ve spotlighted kiddos graduating from their medical treatments, inmates finding joy in seemingly joyless places, animals finding new homes and a story of academic success for a person living with Down Syndrome.

1. Children graduating from chemotherapy treatment

Completing the grueling process of chemotherapy is a powerful moment for anyone impacted by cancer, but it’s particularly inspiring when the graduate is a child. Across hospitals nationwide, a culture of “ringing the bell” has developed when patients complete their final chemo treatment. This tradition emerged in 1996 by Irve Le Moyne, a United States Navy Rear Admiral who installed a brass bell at the cancer center where he was receiving treatment. The bells and accompanying poem by Le Moyne began appearing in cancer wards everywhere and are now a major main-staple that children also participate in when they graduate from their treatment.

Ring this bell
Three times well
It’s toll to clearly say,
My treatment’s done
This course is run
And I am on my way!

Across YouTube, there are ample videos of children chemo grads, enough to bring a tear to any eye. Check out this video of Benjamin, a 10-year-old Chicago boy celebrating his bell ringing alongside his favorite Cubs player and fellow cancer survivor, Anthony Rizzo.

2. Student with down syndrome graduates from college

Last year, Cody Donaca-Sullivan made history as Oregon’s first person living with down syndrome to graduate from a four-year university. Earning a Certificate of Achievement in Education from Portland’s Concordia University, Cody spent four years completing all the relevant coursework to be declared an “official college graduate.” While Cody’s accomplishments are breathtaking, this graduation wouldn’t have been possible without the dedication of his mother, Ann Donaca-Sullivan. When Cody expressed his interest in attending college, she called every university in the state looking for a program that could help accommodate his learning needs. Concordia was willing to work hand-in-hand with the family and to develop a custom education program that helped Cody thrive, learn and thoroughly enjoy the college experience.

3. Animals graduating out of shelters

Animal shelters play a powerful role in providing temporary compassionate housing for pets and strays in need. However, they are also often crowded, noisy and the type of place that ideally all animals can depart quickly from into loving homes. In order to do so, they often need behavioral support so that they can put their best paw forward to potential adopters.

The Tails of Redemption program in Chicago’s Cook County is designed to help ill-mannered dogs gain the training needed to thrive in a loving home. Local animal shelters partner with the Cook County Jail, allowing Cook County inmates the opportunity to give the dogs loving personal attention and also proving therapeutic for the inmates as well. After a dog lives in the jail for approximately two months, bonding with humans and gaining manners along the way, they graduate and go on to find their “furever” homes; some have even found their homes with jail personnel who bonded with them while they are in the program!

4. Baby graduates out of NICU

In this heartwarming video, we meet the Potter family, including tiny infant Cullen Potter. Born premature at 22-weeks, with only a 2% chance of survival, the NICU at USA Children’s and Women’s Hospital proved critical in saving Cullen’s life. As amazing as the NICU can be, everyone just wants to see healthy, thriving babies leave there as fast as possible. Eventually, Cullen’s day to leave arrived. Where do you find a tiny cap and gown fit for a newborn baby?! From Build-A-Bear Workshop, of course! Watch to see the cutest graduation ceremony you’ll ever witness as Cullen was finally cleared to go home five months later.

5. Felons earning their college degrees

Earning a college diploma is a powerful step toward career success for many. For inmates within the prison system who face major challenges in trying to find work after their release, a college degree can be game-changing. Although many prisons offer GED programs, there are few options for inmates to pursue a four-year college degree.

Even for inmates serving a life-without-parole sentence, there’s great power in providing educational and intellectual opportunities. That’s why we are so in love with California State University Los Angeles’ Prison Graduation Initiative. Serving as the only college in California to offer bachelor degree opportunities to the prison population, the program offers hope to a vulnerable population in desperate need of it.