TONGANOXIE — A Tonganoxie high school senior who suffered a stroke after a yearlong fight with bone cancer was honored this week with a graduation ceremony held just for him.
School principal Jamie Carlisle said Connor Olson had inspired everyone he met with his positive attitude while fighting the cancer. Olson's condition worsened in recent weeks, and he had a stroke last weekend.
During Thursday's ceremony, eight of Olson's friends wheeled him into the auditorium and carried him onto the stage. A slide show flashed pictures of Olson and his friends over the years.
"Connor was dealt an incredibly poor hand, but Connor was dealt four aces when it comes to his attitude toward life and his respect for others," Carlisle said.
He wore a red cap and gown, just like the ones his fellow seniors will don when they graduate May 15.
Olson, who was on a morphine drip, and his friends had worked out a hand signal system for the ceremony. They decided he would hold up one finger if the pain was bearable, two if it was too much.
He didn't open his eyes during the ceremony, but he could hear everything. He never raised two fingers. Instead, he gave Carlisle a thumbs-up when he was ready to receive his diploma.
His friend Lindsey Fatherly, the senior class president, told the crowd that Connor had "raised the roof" for his schoolmates many times, and asked everyone to stand up and "raise the roof" for him.
The crowd rose and gave Olson a long, loud standing ovation.
Olson's fight with cancer began during a difficult time for students at the Leavenworth County school.
A few weeks after Olson's diagnosis, then-senior Austin Stone fell into a coma after a routine dental procedure. Days later, another student and Olson's close friend, Jeremy Elliott, died in his sleep from a heart condition. Another boy, Jake Ostermeyer, needed a kidney transplant.
That led the school to form Team Tongie, a service group that has raised thousands of dollars for the boys, their families and others in need.
The crowd at Olson's graduation ceremony included Lee Fobbs, who is in charge of player development for the University of Kansas' football team. Olson had visited the team several days ago and, at the request of coach Turner Gill, gave the team a speech about getting the most out of life.
One player posted a note on Facebook about the meeting, and another wrote a letter to Olson's family about how inspirational his visit had been.
When the time came, Olson was wheeled across the stage and shook hands with high school officials. Then, a friend flipped his tassel and Olson was an official graduate.
After the ceremony, Olson's father, Martin Olson, told his son's friends that he and his wife were hesitant when the school contacted them on Tuesday about the ceremony.
"Sandy and I thought, 'No way. He's in excruciating pain. He feels like crap.' But he said, 'No, I want to walk across the stage,' " Martin Olson told the boys. "And it was just by sheer determination."