Cynthia Pettway, a student in Alabama, had to be checked into the hospital a week before her graduation, where doctors told her she’d be unable to leave for weeks. It seemed like the senior would miss her graduation.
But her public school district in Mobile and the USA Children’s & Women’s Hospital nearby partnered together so that she could still be at the ceremony by bringing out a robot that would give the senior the experience of walking the stage.
Pettway, who is 17, said she was skeptical of the idea at first when her mother described it to her.
“I didn’t think it was going to work,” Pettway told the BBC. “I was like, ‘Mama a robot, really?'”
Really. Video of the Monday graduation for LeFlore High School, shows the skinny robot dressed in a cap and gown, an iPad with Pettway on its screen placed at its head, wheeling across the stage after school officials call her name. The crowd cheers and claps loudly.
Pettway was driving the robot and watching along with about 40 of her family members at the hospital, according to Mobile County Public Schools, an experience Pettway said moved her to tears.
“The cheering came and then I got emotional,” she told the BBC. “I was crying bad, tears of joy.”
In a brief interview, Pettway’s mother Rachael Johnson declined to specify the nature of her daughter’s illness, but described it as “life-threatening” and said that the family was working to figure out how it would pay for her medical treatment. The family has set up a GoFundMe to raise money for Pettway.
Pettway told WKRG that graduating was a point of pride for her.
“I’m my grandma’s first grandbaby, her first one to only go and get to walk that stage, so I had to walk that stage,” said Pettway, “and I rolled across that stage.”
Johnson said the experience was “perfect,” according to a Facebook post from the school district.
“We loved it,” she said.