Wash. state high school stages early graduation for student with tumor

FEDERAL WAY, Wash. -- Deep in the heart of basketball season, it was a full court press in a high school gym in Federal Way Thursday night. There were no players here, however; only pomp and circumstance.

"It's sort of uncharted territory," said Decatur High School principal David Brower. "I've never done this for a student, but I can think of no better students than them to do this for."

Students lined the bleachers with tissues. Some passed out programs. The band set up in one corner; the jazz choir in another.

Soon, a crowd swelled on the floor - a large cluster of balloons above it. It was a rock star welcome; the sort of attention that follows Dom Cooks around school, friends say.

"It's what he's wanted for four years. He loves the school more than anybody. He really does," said classmate Mikaela Benavente.

Cooks, 18, was a standout athlete on the school's football team until an aggressive brain tumor sidelined him from the sport last year. Cooks now spends part of his time in a wheelchair, instead of scoring touchdowns.

"He doesn't want you to dwell on it." added Benavente. "He's more embraced what's left of life."

Doctors have given Cooks a few months to live. Staff members weren't sure that might mean for the school's graduation, which typically happens in June. Within the span of a week, they were able to plan a last-minute special graduation ceremony for Dom and his twin sister - complete with caps and gowns, speakers, and music.

"This is crazy. This is crazy!" Dom said, as he spoke to friends, posed for pictures, and shook hands with classmates Thursday.

"It's not going to be sad. It's going to be awesome, I think," said Toshanna Salman, who was at the graduation with her daughter, one of Dom's clasmates. She called Cooks an inspiration.

"He might not know (my daughter) that well, but he's doing something good in her life without her knowing," Salman added.

As the ceremony started, the school band played traditional fanfare. Dom was wheeled down the middle of the gymansium, as classmates applauded.

Over 90 minutes, teachers spoke volumes about the spirit of Dom and his sister, Diamond.

"It's just honoring two amazing young people who've made a world of difference," said teacher Laurie Beaver. "Do you want me to start crying now?"

There were more cheers than tears, however - especially when the principal announced a surprise guest: Seahawks wide receiver Doug Baldwin, who said he'd met Dom earlier in the season and was honored to be at the special ceremony.

Dom smiled, and then Baldwin helped him out of his wheelchair to accept his diploma. Dom moved his tassel from one side to the other, as his classmates rose in a standing ovation; a shining moment for a young man who might not live to see his own pro football career, but whose positive attitude is victory enough in the eyes of his fellow classmates.

"It just touched me, especially knowing his life," said classmate Makayla Colvin.