PANAMA CITY — The end of the year is drawing near for high school students and though graduation is officially June 4 for Deane Bozeman seniors, one exceptional student observed the honor early.
“I’m so proud of her. She’s been waiting for this for a long time,” said Amy Snell, 16.
Bay District Schools presented to 18-year-old Amber Evangeline Snell her diploma during a special graduation ceremony Saturday held at the fellowship hall at First Baptist Church downtown.
Amy, Snell’s sister, was one of many Bozeman students who attended the graduation in honor of someone people who’ve met her call “happy” and “an inspiration.”
“Happy, loving and determined would probably be the best description I would characterize her as,” said Jeff Snell, Snell’s father.
Amber Snell has advanced osteosarcoma, a type of bone cancer typically diagnosed in children. She was diagnosed with the disease when she was 14 years old, Jeff Snell said. Although the disease continued to progress, she began attending high school at Bozeman last year.
“… Little did I know this special young lady would be a catalyst for the change in atmosphere that I desperately wanted to see in Bozeman school … real success is what we’re witnessing today. Amber Snell is a success story …,” principal of Bozeman Josh Balkom told the audience of students, school board members, family and friends. “Despite pain, despite fatigue, despite uncertainty, Amber Snell has won.”
In her honor, Balkom announced Bozeman will institute a new award — the Amber Snell Award — to be given to a graduating senior who’s demonstrated outstanding achievement and perseverance each year.
As the school’s concert band performed “Pomp and Circumstance,” Snell walked down the aisle clad in graduation regalia.
Each resilient step meant something to audience members, as tears flowed for Snell and her family.
As she walked, Snell clutched her father until she reached her seat in the front of the hall. The achievement warranted a standing ovation and lengthy applause.
“Amber’s biggest goal was she wanted to graduate,” said paraprofessional and Snell’s aid of three years, Trish Cox-Lindahl. “She wanted to be able to come back her senior year. She wanted to be able to get that diploma.
“With her health declining, we were afraid that we wouldn’t get here. … Her faith is very strong and she told me earlier that she prayed, ‘the Lord’s going to help us get through this.’ And we did,” Cox-Lindahl said, tearing.
“She’s an inspiration. … She makes me want to be a better person,” she added.
After presentation of a plaque, Snell stood with her head held high as she was given the command by Senior Class President Blake Brannon to move her tassel from left to right.
Then Superintendent of Bay District Schools Bill Husfelt presented the Class of 2013 and gave Snell her diploma.
“Amber, I get to do this about a dozen times a year. It’s always fun, in fact I have goose bumps right now. I’m so proud for you. When I met you last summer and heard your story and listened to what you wanted to do, I knew that it would all work out,” Husfelt said before pronouncing Snell as a graduate of Deane Bozeman School 2013.
Deane Bozeman High School Counselor Rhonda Conrad said Snell has been the kind of student that never wanted special treatment.
“She’s gone through all the tasks: FCAT, papers, homework. She’s done what a typical student would do despite the pain,” Conrad said, noting she was proud of Snell’s determination.
“That was her number one goal — that she’d be able to graduate this year.”
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