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Graduates say Willamette High denied chance to honor friend who died of cancer

Yvonne's friends and family said they hope things can change in the future for other families who have lost loved ones.

Posted: Jun 10, 2019 5:52 PM

EUGENE, Ore. -- Friends and family of Yvonne Bell-Alanis, a former Willamette High School student who died of cancer last year, are speaking out, saying they're upset they weren’t allowed to honor her at the school's graduation on Friday.

Tiffany Bell-Alanis, Yvonne’s mother, said a few weeks before graduation, a few of Yvonne’s friends reached out to administrators, wanting to carry a photo of her or even her urn across the stage with them as they received their diplomas.

Tiffany and Yvonne’s friends said they wanted to do something simple, not something that would distract from the ceremony.

However, Tiffany said the day before the graduation, they were told no because school administrators didn’t want to make it a memorial.

"I was quite upset,” Tiffany said. “I had already (come) to terms with Yvonne not graduating, but this is something her friends wanted to do. They wanted their classmate, their best friend to be there for one of their special moments, milestones in their life. They were denied that (and) they can't ever gain that back."

School officials said about 10 days before the graduation ceremony, they were approached with several ideas that they said they felt would have been too much for the ceremony. They said they wanted her friends to be able to do something that was impactful for them while also being respectful of others at the ceremony.

Pat McGillivray, a spokesperson for the Bethel School District, said they thought they had reached an agreement with Yvonne’s friends and family before the ceremony. He said the school allowed them to wear lockets filled with her hair.

However, Yvonne’s friends and family said they don’t feel like they were able to remember and honor her in the way they should have been able to during the ceremony.

They said they hope things can change in the future for other families who have lost loved ones.

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