Whitehall-Yearling High School junior Kyler Kessler, seated next to his parents and brother, broadly smiled as he soaked in the achievement of a lifelong dream.
It's a life those who celebrated May 23 with Kyler, 17, in the school's auditorium know will be far too short.
“When Kyler told me it was his last wish (and) only dream to graduate, I had to make that happen," said Pamela Glass, who taught Kyler at his home this year during his battle with neuroblastoma.
“But I think I learned as much from him as he ever learned from me” about humility, peace and acceptance of the fragility of human life, Glass said.
Many of Kyler’s classmates -- juniors who are members of the class of 2019 -- gathered in the auditorium May 23 to witness him receive his tassel, mortarboard and certificate of attendance from Principal Paul Smathers, Superintendent Brian Hamler and Whitehall school board members.
The outpouring of love and support for Kyler did not surprise his father, John Kessler.
“Whitehall has been so very good to us and takes care of their own,” Mr. Kessler said, whose wife, Traci, is a 1991 graduate of Whitehall-Yearling High School.
After Kyler told Glass about his wish to experience commencement, made shortly after the family received a poor prognosis, Glass said she reached out the administrators and others to make the wish a reality.
“(Glass) cares so deeply about her students, and of course we wanted to make a special day as possible for (Kyler),” Hamler said.
“(Ms. Glass) came to our house (May 5) to tell us what she wanted to do (and) then we told Kyler,” Mr. Kessler said.
His parents were by his side as he briefly addressed his classmates with words applicable to anyone in the world.
“Don’t waste too much time being mad at those you love," he said. "Keep them in mind and cherish them, for they may not be around for long ... I love all of you.”
Traci Kessler said her son’s words are steeped in his “mature faith,” built as he endured multiple surgeries, remissions and setbacks during the past decade.
Kyler was diagnosed in June 2005 with neuroblastoma, a cancer that forms in nerve tissue, after the 5-year-old experienced acute pain when jumping from a tree limb to the ground, said his maternal grandfather, Bruce Salyers.
The first of multiple surgeries was in November 2005 as Kyler was treated at Nationwide Children’s Hospital, St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis, Tennessee, and a facility in Arizona, Salyers said.
“(Kyler) believes there is a purpose to his sickness,” and that his illness will be a gateway to find a future cure for other children with neuroblastoma, Salyers said.
Meanwhile, Salyers said the family perseveres.
“There are some days you don’t think about it and others when you can’t stop thinking about it," he said.
The family will continue to celebrate Kyler’s life this summer, Mrs. Kessler said, doing “as much as he wants to do.”
“I expect there will be a lot of pizzas and bonfires," she said.
Hunter Hileman, Kyler’s classmate and friend since meeting in the sixth grade at Rosemore Middle School, said he looks forward to those activities and more, including a go-kart rematch.
So, too, does Kyler’s brother, Brandon Malloy, a 2011 graduate of Whitehall-Yearling. He has two sons: one 8 years old, the other 6 months.
“(Caleb) loves playing Minecraft with his Uncle Kyler,” said Malloy, adding his older son understands Kyler’s illness.
“We will all meet (Kyler) again,” Salyers said.