TAMPA — Corey Varnedoe stood at his father's bedside Friday, decked out in cap and gown as Robinson High School principal Johnny Bush struggled to read the words that would confer his degree.
Varnedoe, 19, will walk with the 331 members of his graduating class Monday, but his parents cannot attend. Edward Varnedoe is bedridden with end-stage brain cancer. As his health deteriorated in the last week, the family worked with a Robinson assistant principal on a last-minute graduation ceremony at their South Tampa home.
Since elementary school, Varnedoe has imagined his parents seeing him graduate from high school. And they did, as tearful friends and family huddled around. Accomplishing his goal bore even more significance following his father's December diagnosis.
"That was everything," he said of the ceremony. "That's the only thing I could ask God for."
After graduating, Varnedoe set down his diploma to kiss his father's hand. Edward Varnedoe is not talking much anymore, but he told his son he loved him.
"He's the baby," said Robin Varnedoe, Corey's mother. "Nobody should have to go through their dad passing away."
Both parents and their older children are also Robinson graduates. The Varnedoes and Bush hugged often before the principal headed back to school.
"I didn't think the principal was going to come," Corey Varnedoe said. "I'm very appreciative."
Bush has a 25-minute speech ready for Monday's graduation, one that he said he could probably zip through without getting choked up. But a paragraph he read Friday, one that officially pronounced Varnedoe a graduate, got to him.
"I was like, 'Where'd my throat go?' " Bush said, describing his difficulty in reading the words.
Last year, Bush delivered a student's diploma to Tampa General Hospital. But a home ceremony, he said, was a first for him in three years at Robinson's helm.
Bush described Varnedoe as a hardworking student in and out of the classroom.
"We're just very proud of him, and we're glad his father could be here to see him," Bush said.
Varnedoe, a high school ROTC member, plans to enlist in the Air Force, just like one of his older brothers.
But first, he expects to spend the summer at home, surrounded by family.
"I have such a good family watching over me," he said.
Julie Kliegman can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (813) 226-3401. Follow her on Twitter @jmkliegman.