Alabama high school helps stage graduation for student’s fatally ill father

SEALE, Ala. — There was no way Mike Bowden’s family was going to allow late-stage cancer to steal the joy of watching his son graduate from high school.

Jessie Bowden, Mike’s wife and Michael’s mother, knew time was the enemy as her husband battled stage 4 liver and bile duct cancer, so she made a phone call knowing Michael’s graduation was slated for late May and watched a miracle unfold.

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According to the Columbus Ledger-Enquirer, Jessie Bowden asked Russell High School Assistant Principal Christopher Baker if she could borrow a cap and gown for a makeshift ceremony at their home in Seale, Alabama, and if he would be willing to hand Michael a mock diploma.

The administration agreed, and Mike received the gift of a lifetime April 25 when Jessie made the following announcement as school officials in graduation robes marched into their home while a recording of “Pomp and Circumstance” played softly:

“Mike Bowden, you are invited to the graduation of Michael David Bowden Jr.”

Tears welled up in Mike’s eyes, the Ledger-Enquirer reported.

“He didn’t know what to say, but the look on his face was priceless,” Jessie Bowden told the newspaper.

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According to The Associated Press, Principal Tonya Keene gave Michael Bowden Jr. his real diploma during the ceremony, and Mike Bowden Sr. died at home on May 9, two weeks before the official graduation ceremony.

He was 64.

“I started crying and felt so humbled that we were invited into such a private yet important moment in the family home,” Keene told the Ledger-Enquirer.

“It was the right thing to do. All of our kids work hard to meet the milestone of graduation, and our parents/families are incredibly supportive, and they deserve to be able to celebrate with us,” she added.

Jessie Bowden told the newspaper that even though cancer “stole” her husband from a life and family he was not ready to leave, Russell High School made one last milestone possible.

“I know he died a very proud daddy,” Jessie Bowden said.

-- The Associated Press contributed to this report.