Burgin Ind. gives a new meaning to "special" with graduation event for foster child whose mother may not live to regular year-end event

Harrodsburg Herald, March 31, 2016

Watching Jeremiah graduate
Burgin holds special ceremony for famkly fighting cancer
by Robert Moore

When Jeremiah Holsinger graduated from Burgin High School, his mother, Chris Gohranson, couldn't get over how much he'd grown over the years.

Chris and her husband, Bill, took Jeremiah and his two brothers into their home in 2008. Back then, Jeremiah, who'd suffered a severe brain injury at age three,barely talked.

"When he first arrived, it was a goal for him to have four words in asentence," Chris said.

But over his years at Burgin, working with his teachers, including Jackie Robinson and Beth Lozier, Jeremiah has not only come out of his shell, he's grown into quite a young man, his father said.

"There's more to school than academics,” Bill Gohranson said. “This wouldn’t have happened elsewhere.”

Jeremiah helps with the school's backpack program. He delivers mail. He volunteers his time with the Family Resources Center. For spring break, he plans to volunteer at the Christian Life Center.

"Jeremiah is a wonderful example of what a small school can do," Chris Gohranson said. She said it "was overwhelming but wonderful” to watch him graduate.

But it wasn't just pride she felt when she watched her son accept his diploma and turn the tassel on his cap. She also felt gratitude to Burgin. Not just for helping Jeremiah grow and mature, but for helping her see him graduate at all.

Chris was diagnosed with stage IV colon cancer last year. The 5-year survival rate for people with colon cancer that has spread to other parts of the body is 11 percent, according to statistics from the American Cancer Society. She began chemotherapy, but in January, her doctors discovered the cancer had spread even more and chemotherapy was no longer effective.

"I was so disappointed," she said. "It didn't look like I'd be a part of it. I just never envisioned they'd do a whole graduation ceremony."

Robinson, Jeremiah's teacher, first mentioned it to School Guidance Counselor Sarah Steele on Monday. On Tuesday, they received permission to hold a graduation ceremony just for Jeremiah. On Wednesday, Jeremiah was dressed in his cap and gown and accepting his diploma.

"When something is meant to happen, it happens," Robinson said. "This was meant to happen."

The graduation became a school project. The senior class not only attended the ceremony, they also performed, singing and giving speeches. The organizers only figured on half a dozen people attending the ceremony, but in the end, every student from Burgin's high school and middle school showed up.

It wasn't just the students. It was the whole community. Local churches donated flowers to decorate the gym. People baked cakes and prepared food for the reception. Someone took pictures. Someone else took video and posted it online.

"It was all that love for him that brought us all together," Beth Lozier said. "We just wanted her to see him graduate."

Chris Gohranson said she regrets not telling the rest of her family about the ceremony. "I didn't invite my family," she said.

But the Gohransons were only expecting a small ceremony with half a dozen people attending. And everything happened so fast.

"It was the most wonderful moment they could have given me," Chris said.

The Gohransons are both retired United States Navy air traffic controllers. Bill is originally from San Jose, California. Chris is from Carrollton. During their careers, they served in San Diego, Texas, Tennessee, Sicily in Italy and finally, southwest Maryland. They moved to Burgin 11 years ago.

"The sign says it's a friendly little town and it really is," Chris said.

Asked why they began fostering children, Bill said, "We saw an ad in the paper."

Jeremiah and his two brothers came into their lives in 2008. In 2012, the couple adopted the three boys so they wouldn't be split up and place back in foster care. Jeremiah said he's changed his mind a thousand times about what he wants to do with his life. The first thing he said to Jackie Robinson was that he hated math. Within a year, he told her he wanted to be a banker when he grew up. After taking culinary arts classes at the Kentucky School for the Deaf, he'd love to work in a restaurant or as a caterer.

"I love cooking," Jeremiah said. "It's my favorite class."

Chris was so glad to see him step up to the podium. The little boy who wouldn't say more than four words at a time wasnow addressing the crowd.

"It gives you a lot of peace," Chris said. "It's just such a comfort. I can't think of the words to describe it. It was such a gift."

The future is uncertain. But no matter what happens, they will never forget what Burgin has done for them.

"It has been such a blessing," Chris said.

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