Stories of struggle, triumph at Stewart School graduation

Karla Medina kisses her son Jose Gomez as his dad Jose Gomez watches during a graduation ceremony at Helen J. Stewart School, a special needs school, in Las Vegas, Wednesday, May 16, 2018. Rachel Aston Las Vegas Review-Journal gowns hang at Helen J. Stewart School in Las Vegas, Wednesday, May 16, 2018. Rachel Aston Las Vegas Review-Journal caps at Helen J. Stewart School in Las Vegas, Wednesday, May 16, 2018. Rachel Aston Las Vegas Review-Journal Kahow helps Anthony Carter-Martin put on his cap at Helen J. Stewart School in Las Vegas, Wednesday, May 16, 2018. The special needs school hosted a graduation ceremony for students. Rachel Aston Las Vegas Review-Journal Brown, left, helps Sydney Goecke as she talks to fellow student Tobby Davis at Helen J. Stewart School in Las Vegas, Wednesday, May 16, 2018. The special needs school hosted a graduation ceremony for students. Rachel Aston Las Vegas Review-Journal Brown, left, helps Sydney Goecke put on her gown as she talks to fellow student Tobby Davis at Helen J. Stewart School in Las Vegas, Wednesday, May 16, 2018. The special needs school hosted a graduation ceremony for students. Rachel Aston Las Vegas Review-Journal Davis points out Sydney Goecke‘s nails as Valerie Brown helps her with her cap at Helen J. Stewart School in Las Vegas, Wednesday, May 16, 2018. The special needs school hosted a graduation ceremony for students. Rachel Aston Las Vegas Review-Journal crowd applauds Tobby Davis as he makes his way to the front at Helen J. Stewart School in Las Vegas, Wednesday, May 16, 2018. The special needs school hosted a graduation ceremony for students. Rachel Aston Las Vegas Review-Journal Goecke runs to hug her dad Jason Goecke on her way down the aisle at Helen J. Stewart School in Las Vegas, Wednesday, May 16, 2018. The special needs school hosted a graduation ceremony for students. Rachel Aston Las Vegas Review-Journal Goecke hugs her dad Jason Goecke on her way down the aisle at Helen J. Stewart School in Las Vegas, Wednesday, May 16, 2018. The special needs school hosted a graduation ceremony for students. Rachel Aston Las Vegas Review-Journal Goecke hugs her dad Jason Goecke on her way down the aisle at Helen J. Stewart School in Las Vegas, Wednesday, May 16, 2018. The special needs school hosted a graduation ceremony for students. Rachel Aston Las Vegas Review-Journal crowd applauds Brenda Rodriguez, assisted by Dawn Euseary, before she makes her way to the front at Helen J. Stewart School in Las Vegas, Wednesday, May 16, 2018. The special needs school hosted a graduation ceremony for students. Rachel Aston Las Vegas Review-Journal Rodriguez, assisted by Dawn Euseary, waves to the crowd before she makes her way to the front at Helen J. Stewart School in Las Vegas, Wednesday, May 16, 2018. The special needs school hosted a graduation ceremony for students. Rachel Aston Las Vegas Review-Journal crowd applauds Natalia Martinez before she makes her way to the front at Helen J. Stewart School in Las Vegas, Wednesday, May 16, 2018. The special needs school hosted a graduation ceremony for students. Rachel Aston Las Vegas Review-Journal . Deanna Jaskolski, from left, school board trustee Dr. Linda Young, and school board trustee Linda Cavazos greet the crowd during a graduation ceremony at Helen J. Stewart School, a special needs school, in Las Vegas, Wednesday, May 16, 2018. Rachel Aston Las Vegas Review-Journal . Pat Schultz addresses the crowd during a graduation ceremony at Helen J. Stewart School, a special needs school, in Las Vegas, Wednesday, May 16, 2018. Rachel Aston Las Vegas Review-Journal board trustee Dr. Linda Young congratulates Anthony Carter-Martin as Dr. Deanna Jaskolski, left, and school board trustee Linda Cavazos during a graduation ceremony at Helen J. Stewart School, a special needs school, in Las Vegas, Wednesday, May 16, 2018. Rachel Aston Las Vegas Review-Journal Davis holds his diploma in front of Dr. Deanna Jaskolski, from left, school board trustee Linda Cavazos, and school board trustee Dr. Linda Young during a graduation ceremony at Helen J. Stewart School, a special needs school, in Las Vegas, Wednesday, May 16, 2018. Rachel Aston Las Vegas Review-Journal . Deanna Jaskolski congratulates Sydney Goecke during a graduation ceremony at Helen J. Stewart School, a special needs school, in Las Vegas, Wednesday, May 16, 2018. Rachel Aston Las Vegas Review-Journal Khalil smiles while receiving his diploma during a graduation ceremony at Helen J. Stewart School, a special needs school, in Las Vegas, Wednesday, May 16, 2018. Rachel Aston Las Vegas Review-Journal Navarrete waves at her daughter during a graduation ceremony at Helen J. Stewart School, a special needs school, in Las Vegas, Wednesday, May 16, 2018. Rachel Aston Las Vegas Review-Journal Rodriguez congratulates his daughter Brenda Rodriguez after she received her diploma during a graduation ceremony at Helen J. Stewart School, a special needs school, in Las Vegas, Wednesday, May 16, 2018. Rachel Aston Las Vegas Review-Journal Greenwald, left, helps Isaiah Milligan keep on his cap before school board trustee Dr. Linda Young changes his tassel over during a graduation ceremony at Helen J. Stewart School, a special needs school, in Las Vegas, Wednesday, May 16, 2018. Rachel Aston Las Vegas Review-Journal . Linda Young changes the tassel of Christopher Ruesch during a graduation ceremony at Helen J. Stewart School, a special needs school, in Las Vegas, Wednesday, May 16, 2018. Rachel Aston Las Vegas Review-Journal graduation ceremony at Helen J. Stewart School, a special needs school, in Las Vegas, Wednesday, May 16, 2018. Rachel Aston Las Vegas Review-Journal Davis hugs his mom Pamela Gultry during a graduation ceremony at Helen J. Stewart School, a special needs school, in Las Vegas, Wednesday, May 16, 2018. Rachel Aston Las Vegas Review-Journal Navarrete and Jesus Martinez congratulate their daughter Natalia Martinez during a graduation ceremony at Helen J. Stewart School, a special needs school, in Las Vegas, Wednesday, May 16, 2018. Rachel Aston Las Vegas Review-Journal Johnson stands stands with her son Mason Sandoval and his father Robert Sandoval during a graduation ceremony at Helen J. Stewart School, a special needs school, in Las Vegas, Wednesday, May 16, 2018. Rachel Aston Las Vegas Review-Journal Martinez congratulates his daughter Natalia Martinez during a graduation ceremony at Helen J. Stewart School, a special needs school, in Las Vegas, Wednesday, May 16, 2018. Rachel Aston Las Vegas Review-Journal Rodriguez, assisted by Dawn Euseary, makes her way to the front at Helen J. Stewart School in Las Vegas, Wednesday, May 16, 2018. The special needs school hosted a graduation ceremony for students. Rachel Aston Las Vegas Review-Journal Goecke runs to hug her dad Jason Goecke on her way down the aisle at Helen J. Stewart School in Las Vegas, Wednesday, May 16, 2018. The special needs school hosted a graduation ceremony for students. Rachel Aston Las Vegas Review-Journal

Jolynn Ryan ran across the stage to collect her graduation certificate Wednesday night, waving furiously at her family.

That’s typical for her, according to Alisha Ryan, her mother. Jolynn, almost 18, is full of life and loves running around. And that wasn’t supposed to happen. At age 2, she was diagnosed with trisomy 13, a rare disease that most doctors considered terminal.

Many of Jolynn’s classmates at Helen J. Stewart School, a Clark County school specifically for students with severe disabilities and special needs, have similar stories of struggle and triumph. Fourteen students were celebrated at the school Wednesday night, marking the first ceremony for the Clark County School District’s 2018 graduation season.

“I’m really just ecstatic she made it,” Alisha said as she helped Jolynn pose for a photo in her cap and gown after the ceremony, which included each student being individually escorted into the ceremony and a slideshow featuring photos of students throughout their years at Stewart.

Students also honored their families at the ceremony, giving a loved one a rose, which was meant to mark just how much the students have blossomed at the school.

Principal Patricia Schultz presided over the ceremony, crediting the “magical touch of the staff.” That staff includes Ritha Burrows, a special education teacher who has been at Stewart since August 1975 and is retiring this year. During the ceremony, Burrows sat with a bouquet of balloons for the graduates.

A fierce defender of the students, she has taken her knowledge and presented at conferences around the nation. Years ago, Burrows started a community education program at the school when she took more than 20 students to a restaurant for a meal. She’s a for parents and families, many of whom have her personal phone number, Schultz said.

“She should qualify for sainthood,” Schultz said.

Like Jolynn’s family, Christopher Ruesch’s family wasn’t sure he would ever get to this point. Christopher and his twin brother were born two-and-a-half months premature, and Christopher was born feet first. He has cerebral palsy and autism.

But if you ask his mother, he’s the closest thing to heaven she will even witness on Earth. Terena Reusch said the whole evening was overwhelming.

“He’s such a happy, content little boy,” she said. “He’s my little miracle boy.”

For Franshawn Carter, the ceremony marked a time to reflect on the challenges she and her family faced to get Anthony Carter-Martin to this point. She struggled to maintain a full-time job throughout the years, because Anthony’s epilepsy and other medical issues meant constant care.

“I don’t even have the words,” she said. ” I can’t beleive we’re even here.”

Although the students, who are all about 18, participated in the graduation ceremony, they don’t have to leave just yet. Because of their severe needs, the students are eligible to stay at the school until they are 22.

Meghin Delaney at or . Follow on Twitter.

Graduation season

The Clark County School District has released its schedule of 2018 high school graduations. Graduations began on Wednesday and run through June 1. Find your school below, listed in alphabetical order.

A-Tech: Thursday, May 24, 6 p.m., Orleans Arena.

Adult Education: Wednesday, May 30, 9 a.m., Thomas & Mack Center.

Arbor View High School: Saturday, May 26, 9 a.m., Thomas & Mack Center.

Basic Academy: Friday, May 25, 12 p.m., Orleans Arena.

Bonanza High School: Tuesday, May 29, 12 p.m., Orleans Arena.

Boulder City High School: Friday, May 25, 7:30 p.m., Boulder City High School.

Burk Horizon/Southwest Sunset High School: Friday, June 1, 12 p.m., Las Vegas Academy of the Arts.

Canyon Springs High School: Tuesday, May 29, 9 a.m., Thomas & Mack Center.

Centennial High School: Friday, May 25 3 p.m., Thomas & Mack Center.

Chaparral High School: Thursday, May 31, 12 p.m., Orleans Arena.

Cheyenne High School: Thursday, May 31, 3 p.m., Orleans Arena.

Cimarron Memorial High School: Saturday, May 26, 6 p.m. Thomas & Mack Center.

Clark High School: Saturday, May 25, 12 p.m., Thomas & Mack Center.

Coronado High School: Tuesday, May 29, 3 p.m. Thomas & Mack Center.

Cowan Sunset Southeast High School: Friday, June 1, 12 p.m., Las Vegas Academy of the Arts.

College of Southern Nevada High School: Wednesday, May 30, 12 p.m., Orleans Arena.

Del Sol Academy: Tuesday, May 29, 9 a.m., Orleans Arena.

Desert Oasis High School: Saturday, May 26, 3 p.m., Thomas & Mack Center.

Desert Pines High School: Wednesday, May 30, 3 p.m., Thomas & Mack Center.

Desert Rose High School / Desert Rose Adult High School: Wednesday, May 30, 9 a.m. Thomas & Mack Center.

Durango High School: Wednesday, May 30, 9 a.m., Orleans Arena.

East Career & Technical Academy: Wednesday, May 30, 3 p.m., Orleans Arena.

Eldorado High School: Saturday, May 26, 3 p.m., Orleans Arena.

Foothill High School: Tuesday, May 29, 6 p.m., Thomas & Mack Center.

Global Community High School: Tuesday, May 29, 9 a.m., Desert Pines High School.

Green Valley High School: Friday, May 25, 9 a.m., Thomas & Mack Center.

Helen J. Stewart School: May 16, 7 p.m., Helen J. Stewart School.

Indian Springs High School: Thursday, May 24, 7 p.m., Indian Springs High School.

Las Vegas Academy of the Arts: Tuesday, May 29, 6 p.m., Orleans Arena.

Las Vegas High School: Thursday, May 24, 7:30 p.m., Las Vegas High School.

Laughlin High School: Thursday, May 24, 6 p.m., Laughlin High School.

Legacy High School: Friday, May 25 12 p.m., Thomas & Mack Center.

Liberty High School: Wednesday, May 30, 6 p.m., Thomas & Mack Center.

Miley Achievement: Friday, June 1, 12 p.m., Las Vegas Academy of the Arts.

John F. Miller School: May 18, 10:15 a.m., Miller School.

Moapa Valley High School: Thursday, May 24, 7 p.m., Moapa Valley High School.

Mojave High School: Wednesday, May 30, 6 p.m., Orleans Arena.

Morris Sunset East High School: Friday, June 1, 12 p.m., Las Vegas Academy of the Arts.

Nevada Learning Academy at CCSD: Friday, June 1, 9 a.m., Las Vegas Academy of the Arts.

Northwest Career & Technical Academy: Tuesday, May 29, 3 p.m., Orleans Arena.

Palo Verde High School: Friday, May 25, 6 p.m., Thomas & Mack Center.

Rancho High School: Tuesday, May 29, 12 p.m., Thomas & Mack Center.

Sandy Valley High School: Thursday, May 24, 5 p.m., Sandy Valley High School.

Shadow Ridge High School: Thursday, May 24, 3 p.m., Thomas & Mack Center.

Sierra Vista High School: Friday, May 25, 6 p.m., Orleans Arena.

Silverado College Prep & Career Technical High School: Thursday, May 24, 6 p.m., Thomas & Mack Center.

Southeast Career Technical Academy: Friday, May 25, 3 p.m., Orleans Arena.

Southwest Career & Technical Academy: Saturday, May 26, 9 a.m., Orleans Arena.

Spring Valley High School: Friday, May 25, 9 a.m., Orleans Arena.

Sunrise Mountain High School: Thursday, May 31, 6 p.m., Orleans Arena.

Valley High School: Wednesday, May 30, 12 p.m., Thomas & Mack Center.

Variety School: Tuesday, May 22, 6 p.m., Variety School.

Veterans Tribute Career & Technical Academy: Thursday, May 24, 3 p.m., Orleans Arena.

Virgin Valley High School: Friday, May 25, 7 p.m., Virgin Valley High School.

West Career & Technical Academy: Saturday, May 26, 12 p.m., Orleans Arena.

West Prep High School: Friday, May 25, 12 p.m., Las Vegas Academy of the Arts.

Western High School: Thursday, May 31, 9 a.m., Orleans Arena.