A graduation success story

In addition to diplomas, receptions, hugs, well wishes, some graduations also include heartwarming stories of success ? success in overcoming adversity.

A few years ago, while living in western Iowa, I became friends of a family through one of my daughters.

The parents were divorced, but the mother and her two children (a son and a daughter) lived a few blocks from me. The mother owned a flower shop across the street from my newspaper.

When things were slow at the newspaper, I would wander across the street to solve the world?s problems with the florist.

I also knew the children because they were quite active in sports. Anastasia, the daughter, became good friends of my daughter through being teammates on the school basketball and volleyball teams.

Anastasia was one of those teens who about had it all and could light up a dark room on a pitch-dark night. She was intelligent, hard-working, responsible, bubbly and mature beyond her years. Her peers recognized her attributes, electing her homecoming queen her senior year. Naturally, the queen selection did not change her as she took it in stride.

Following graduation, she attended Wartburg College. Our paths crossed infrequently after that, and I never saw her again when I moved to southeast Iowa.

Although we didn?t talk again, I kept up with some of her ?happenings? through social media and my daughter.

She enrolled in the University of Iowa School of Pharmacy after graduating from Wartburg. During her first or second year of pharmacy school, she went home for the long Christmas vacation.

On a cold and snowy December night (exactly one week after the shooting at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut), Anastasia, her fiancÚ and her mother went to Ft. Dodge to get some last-minute Christmas gifts.

They were traveling on the blacktop county road that passes the site of the state cross-country and girls? softball tournaments. Suddenly, they met an oncoming driver who had lost control of his vehicle due to the icy conditions (and other circumstances).

The truck hit the SUV that was carrying Anastasia head-on. Anastasia was the only occupant of the vehicle that survived, suffering a broken ankle. Her mother and fiancÚ were pronounced dead at the scene.

It is difficult to imagine the pain she must have suffered losing the love of her life and her mother simultaneously.

She pushed on, though, receiving plenty of encouragement from friends. Last month, she received her pharmacy degree at the University of Iowa. She said it was a bittersweet experience. Her older brother came from Washington, D.C., to attend graduation. She was thrilled and thankful. However, two of the most important people in her life were not there and she said graduation was a bittersweet experience.

With diploma in hand, I am sure she will make someone a great employee. Despite her youth, she already has overcome more tragedy than most people have to endure in a lifetime.