School grants dad's dying wish to see daughter graduate by holding mock graduation ceremony

Kristine Solomon
Style and Beauty Writer
Christian Patterson beamed as she walked in a faux graduation ceremony for her father, Mark, at his hospice in Texas. (Photo: Lindale Independent School District via Facebook)

A hospice patient in Tyler, Texas had one final wish: to see his daughter graduate from high school. But the dad was unsure he’d be able to hold out until the May ceremony, so the school held an emotional ‘mock’ graduation ceremony on Wednesday just for him.

Mark Patterson was diagnosed with stage-four esophageal cancer in January, and though he’d beaten the cancer once before, this time it had returned and metastasized to his lymph nodes, according to CBS 19. As his organs began to fail, Patterson was placed in hospice care. 

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His wife, Darla, soon asked him what his last wish would be. “What is your goal?,” she asked. For Patterson, the answer was clear. Through tears he told his wife, “I just want to see my baby girl graduate.” He was referring to the couple’s daughter, Christian, who is a senior at Lindale High School in nearby Lindale, Texas. .

Before his illness, Patterson had been a school bus driver for the school district’s depot, so when his former colleagues heard of his final request, they mobilized to make it happen. They couldn’t guarantee Patterson would live to see the ceremony, they figured, but they could arrange to have the next best thing. So they spearheaded an effort to stage an early graduation ceremony at his hospice, and Lindale ISD obliged.

On Wednesday, Christian proudly donned her royal blue cap and gown and marched down the “aisle” to the traditional graduation song, “Pomp and Circumstance,” as a crowd assembled outside Hospice of East Texas. In a heartfelt video shared on the school district’s Facebook page, Christian meets her dad at his bedside, and they’re joined by her mother, who gives a speech about the adopted daughter they raised as if she were the couple’s own biological child.

“I’ve never been loved in my life, even by my parents, like this precious baby is loved,” Darla Patterson said. “Eighteen years ago, we were blessed with a child that had to be raised by old people,” she then joked. “But she’s amazing.”

Patterson managed to wave at his daughter as she stood beside him and posed for pictures.

“My dad is my rock,” Christian told CBS 19. “Even though I might break down once in a while, I know God has my back, and I want to stay strong for my family, as well.”

Darla Patterson thanked her husband’s colleagues and Lindale ISD for making the magical moment a reality. “The principal, the superintendents and Lindale let this happen,” she said of the wish-granters. “They let teachers come. They let students come. Those were her three best friends, the girls you saw her with, and they’ve been her rock.”

The ceremony was a blessing for Christian, too. “The graduation in May will be special, [because] I know I will be laughing more and be more outgoing since I’ll be with my classmates,” she told CBS 19. “But I know this one will definitely be something in the books.” She said she is also grateful that her dad had his wish granted. “I was thinking about my dad a lot, thinking about him more than my feelings,” she said. “Because I want to put him first before me.”

Patterson, however, could not express his emotions outwardly, so his family confidently spoke on his behalf.

Amazing. That would be his word,” Darla told the station. “Because all these people that love our family, they stepped up. They left their jobs. He would say amazing. That’s what he would say.”

“I just know my dad is very caring and very loving, and that he thanks everyone that was a part of this,” Christian added. “And if he wasn’t on medicine and everything, he would be crying right now.”

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