UPDATE: Utah teen who died of cancer will be honored at high school graduation, district announces

May 15, 2024, 12:00 PM | Updated: May 16, 2024, 3:48 pm

UPDATE: Alpine School District announced it had made an exception in district policy and would allow Samantha Corey, who died of cancer, to be honored at graduation.

The school district released the following statement:

“In the normal course of planning the school’s graduation ceremony, the administration at American Fork High School sought clarification on our policy about student memorials. The policy was put to the test in the case of Samantha Corey, an American Fork High School senior who died from cancer earlier this year. 
School administrators have historically applied the policy about student memorials to graduation ceremonies. We also have procedures in place for administrators to request exceptions to policy. This morning the District Leadership Team reviewed and approved an exception in this case.
Samantha was loved by her classmates, teachers, and school staff. She will be recognized at the school’s graduation ceremony Wednesday, May 22 at the Marriott Center in Provo.
Policy is designed to help us effectively administer our programs across the district and our process for exceptions allows us to recognize the uniqueness and beauty of individuals and their stories. We are grateful to our high school administrators who so effectively and passionately advocate for their schools.
We look forward to celebrating the accomplishment of Samantha and all of our other remarkable students who have achieved so much.”

AMERICAN FORK — Samantha Corey, 17, died in January following a battle with rhabdomyosarcoma, a rare form of cancer. Now, her family’s attempt to honor Samantha at her high school’s graduation recently ran into an unintended snag — a school district policy that appears to discourage such memorials.

“It’s very rare and aggressive and most of the time fatal,” Samantha’s mother, Kimberly Corey, explained during an interview with KSL TV. “She was diagnosed her sophomore year.”

Corey said Samantha fought through weekly chemotherapy treatments only to relapse last fall.

“When you relapse with this type of cancer, it’s terminal,” the mother said.

According to Corey, Samantha hoped to reach the “milestone” of her high school graduation and had earned her diploma before her passing.

With graduation ceremonies fast approaching at American Fork High School, Corey said she and school administrators had discussed possible ways to honor Samantha’s achievement.

“As it got closer they were made aware there was a new policy that said that if someone passes away you can’t use their name at graduation and no one can walk in their honor,” Corey said.

An Alpine School District spokesperson shared the district’s policy with KSL, which stated that “schools, staff members, or students should not feel obliged or pressured to participate in any acceptable memorials or events” and that “best practices include ideas that are temporary, typically occurring within one week of the death of the student or staff member.”

According to district spokesperson Rich Stowell, Samantha’s circumstance was still being discussed as of Tuesday evening with a decision of some sort expected in the coming days.

“Plans for graduation ceremonies are guided by district policy,” read a prepared statement from the district. “Decisions about specific plans reflect our sincere desire to appropriately balance the need to remember those who have passed and the opportunity to celebrate the accomplishment of all graduates. We realize that not allowing for certain types of memorials during graduation ceremonies may cause additional pain for those closest to students who have passed. Our school administrators have the difficult responsibility of leading with compassion and empathy to help their school community process loss within the guidelines of the policy.”

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The matter came to the attention of the community through social media and an online petition titled “Let Samantha Corey Walk” had gathered over 1,900 signatures as of Wednesday morning.

Samantha’s mother said she would abide with whatever the district decided was best for the overall good and she expressed gratitude to school staff and administrators for their support during and after her daughter’s battle with cancer.

“If it makes it better for everybody to not have to adjust this thing, to read her name, I think we will understand,” Corey said.

Corey said she simply wanted to honor her daughter and her achievement, and she would seek an alternative opportunity to do so if not at graduation.

“This was a big part of where she wanted to be and what she wanted to be doing at this time and so, yeah, she just worked really hard in school and we want to just celebrate that,” Corey said.

The mother reflected Tuesday on her daughter’s life, her passion for volleyball and her love of Boston Celtics basketball.

Corey said her daughter had the opportunity to meet Celtics star Jaylen Brown before she passed and was grateful for the opportunity.

“He was so good to her and talked to her and gave her advice,” Corey smiled.

She said Samantha was “a light” who “smiled her way through everything” and was a great example to others of how to go through difficult things.

“She had a hard, hard life and she lived it with grace and with such a beautiful spirit,” Corey said. “We’re just proud.”

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UPDATE: Utah teen who died of cancer will be honored at high school graduation, district announces