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Impromptu graduation ceremony is lesson in kindness

When Calvin Caurthon Jr. saw the happy graduates filing out of Burgard High School’s auditorium with their families, he knew something was wrong.

Calvin was supposed to graduate too, except he confused the ceremony’s start time and showed up flanked by family members at 5 p.m. – an hour after Thursday’s ceremony started.

Tears began streaming down his face, devastated that his family wouldn’t be able to witness him walk across the stage.

“He instantly broke down in tears,” said Calvin Caurthon Sr. “He really didn’t know how to face his family with that devastating news.”

As the rest of Burgard High School’s approximately 60-person graduating class headed to the gymnasium for a reception, Calvin approached Burgard Principal Brian Wiesinger in hopes of at least picking up his diploma.

“I missed it,” said Calvin, who spent the night before laying out his clothes for the ceremony.

“No, you didn’t,” Wiesinger responded.

“No, I missed it.”

“Well, who is here with you?”

“My whole family is here.”

The two-and-a-half year principal looked at Calvin, who had tears running down his cheeks, and Wiesinger couldn’t just turn him away.

Instead, Wiesinger assembled the two assistant principals and a board member, who quickly obliged, and set up an impromptu ceremony for Calvin and his family.

They called Calvin’s name across the stage, to the elation of his family members. But Wiesinger wouldn’t let Calvin take off just yet. Wiesinger also recited an abbreviated version of the speech he delivered about an hour earlier to the graduating class, titled “Everybody is Something to Somebody.”

The speech, which developed after Wiesinger came across a bumper sticker, delved into recognizing what a person’s actions can mean to another.

For Wiesinger, the decision to re-enact the ceremony circled back, simply, to knowing how to treat one another.

“The fact they had all these people around them all these years, being something to them to get to graduation,” the principal said. “Basically the idea is, it’s their turn to go forward.”

College is next for Calvin, who will be taking courses at Erie Community College South in automotive technology – something his father said he’s always excelled at, adding with a laugh, that his son had already surpassed his own ability to work on modern vehicles.

Thanks to Wiesinger’s quick thinking, what could have been a memory with regret became a positive, lasting one for all involved. For that, the elder Caurthon is grateful.

“Words can’t explain the happiness and the joy, the satisfaction he gave the family,” he said. “I’ve never seen nothing like that done for someone. I think it shows the type of person he is.”