Family and friends gathered to watch their loved ones walk across the stage at the Philadelphia Performing Arts charter school Friday to begin the next chapter of their lives.
The day was especially meaningful for one student, who spent many of his high school years in the hospital battling cancer.
At the age of 13, Tom Sweeney was diagnosed with leukemia. From then on, his main goal was to survive. Graduating was just a bonus.
"I want to be an inspiration to other people, but I didn’t think this many people would be interested in little old me," Sweeney told Philadelphia ABC station WPVI.
While spending countless hours at home and in the hospital fighting the disease, Sweeney not only managed to graduate from high school on time, but also with honors and the memories of being crowned prom king.
"Proud, proud, humble, just love -- I can’t explain it. It is just a dream," Sweeney’s dad, Tom Sr., told WPVI.
At times Sweeney’s family didn’t think he would make it through. His mom, Debbie Reilly, told WPVI her son faced many side effects.
"He had to have total body radiation and then he relapsed and then had to have a bone marrow transplant and then last year he had bilateral hip replacement due to the chemotherapy eating through his joints," she said.
Sweeney has been in remission for two years and now has a diploma to show for winning that battle.
"I like to just show other people and other kids and families who are going through this that it doesn’t have to limit you," Sweeney said. "Having cancer, it doesn’t have to stop you or make it to where you can’t do everything just like everyone else."