Sarah Herrington is overwhelmed by the kindness of those who brought graduation to her hospital room. With her are Dr. Kristi Moore, left, Dr. Jessica Bailey and Dr. LouAnn Woodward.
Sarah Herrington is overwhelmed by the kindness of those who brought graduation to her hospital room, including Dr. Kristi Moore, left, Dr. Jessica Bailey, second from left, and Dr. LouAnn Woodward.
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Illness keeps rad sciences student from Commencement, not graduation

Published on Thursday, May 30, 2019

By: Ruth Cummins

Between working a full-time night shift as an ultrasound and CT technologist at South Central Hospital in Laurel, managing her boutique shop by day and chasing an extremely active 2-year-old, Sarah Herrington didn’t have time to be sick.

Add to that being enrolled full-time, primarily online, in the Advanced Standing Radiologic Sciences program at the School of Health Related Professions at the University of Mississippi Medical Center. Add to that husband Brandon working two weeks on, two weeks off on an oil rig.

But she did, becoming ill a year ago with what has been a chronic condition, and culminating with a month-long hospital stay. The first week was at South Central; the rest of the hospitalization has been at UMMC. “I was making it through, even though I wasn’t at my best,” Herrington said of balancing work, family and school.

Dr. Ralph Didlake congratulates Sarah Herrington during her bedside graduation ceremony that included Dr. Jessica Bailey, Dr. LouAnn Woodward and (not pictured) Dr. Kristi Moore.
Dr. Ralph Didlake congratulates Herrington during her bedside graduation ceremony while Bailey and Woodward observe.

When Commencement rolled around May 24, Herrington was too sick to leave her hospital room. She was devastated after all of her hard work, sacrifice and gutting through her work and family duties while feeling awful. “For those two weeks that Brandon is gone, I’m pretty much on my own,” she said.

So, graduation came to her third-floor room at University Hospital courtesy of an entourage of UMMC educators that included Dr. Jessica Bailey, SHRP dean; Dr. Ralph Didlake, chief academic officer and associate vice chancellor for academic affairs; and Dr. Kristi Moore, associate professor of radiologic sciences and one of Herrington’s most beloved teachers.

And just as she had several hours earlier for more than 600 students attending ceremonies at the Mississippi Coliseum, Dr. LouAnn Woodward, vice chancellor for health affairs and the Medical Center’s top executive, presided over the awarding of Herrington’s diploma.

As Dr. Jessica Bailey and others in attendance clap and cheer, Dr. LouAnn Woodward congratulates an emotional Sarah Herrington after presenting her with her diploma in her hospital room.
While Bailey and others cheer, Woodward presents Herrington with her diploma.

In full academic robes, the four walked down the hospital floor hallway to Herrington’s room, where she and family members waited – and where a delighted group of her caregivers stood by.

Bailey placed a cap on Herrington’s long red locks as Woodward told her: “We wanted to bring Commencement to you.”

Said Bailey, holding Herrington’s hand: “Receiving the bachelor of science in radiologic sciences, Sarah Lynn Harrington.” She placed the diploma case and a copy of the Commencement program in Herrington’s hands.

“Sarah, by the power invested in the institution’s faculty and its leadership, we confer this degree with all the rights, responsibilities and privileges appertaining thereto,” Didlake finished.

On hand for the ceremony are, from left, Rita Jefcoat, Herrington, Brandon Herrington and Lucas Rhett Herrington.

When everyone broke into applause, Herrington’s son, Lucas Rhett, celebrated loudest of all. “Yay! Yay!” he shouted, over and over, clapping his hands and running to his mom’s bedside.

“This means the world to me,” Herrington said. “I got the ceremony right here in my room. My husband got to be here with me.”

The hospital commencement was a first, Woodward said. “Even though she didn’t get to walk across the stage, she had a special moment when she got her diploma.”

Moore, chair of Radiologic Sciences at SHRP, approached Bailey with the idea of a traveling graduation ceremony. “She’s like one of my kids,” Moore said of Herrington.

“She’s had a lot of responsibility, but she’s not a complainer. She’s been a phenomenal student.”

A straight-A scholar, Herrington took her final exam while hospitalized in Laurel. “I had to make an 85 to keep my A,” she said. She kept her A.

There were many tears shed during Herrington’s ceremony, including from front-line staff watching outside her room. She will hold the memory dear, Herrington said.

“I can’t believe it. They were so sweet,” she said.