Friends School seniors honor leukemia victim who would have graduated this year

Graham Harrison won't be graduating with his classmates at Friends School on June 12, but he will be with the senior class in spirit.

Three years after his death from leukemia, the former Friends ninth-grader, who lived in Villages of Homeland and would have graduated from high school this month, will be memorialized by the school and its senior class next week.

The school will award Harrison a posthumous diploma at gradation June 12, and a new "picnic glade" on campus, funded partly by the Class of 2012 as a gift to the school, will be dedicated June 10 in memory of Harrison, school officials said.

Each graduating class makes a gift to the school in an annual tradition. This year's seniors and their parents raised about $90,000 to complete the glade.

The idea of a gift to the school from the graduating class was first envisioned in 1960, when that year's 50th anniversary reunion class gave plantings to the school. The 50th reunion Class of 1961 did likewise, said Eleanor Landauer, the school's acting director of development.

Located next to the school's dining area and envisioned as "a gathering space" for lunch, picnicking and classes, the glade with nine picnic tables will be dedicated at a ribbon-cutting ceremony June 10, during the Seniors and Parents Final Meeting for Worship, an annual pre-graduation event, Landauer said.

The senior class also raised $70,000 to renovate and upgrade Forbush Auditorium, Friends School's fine arts and performing arts center, which was built in the 1950s, Landauer said.

Harrison was a freshman when he died of acute lymphocytic leukemia in January 2009, a month after his 15th birthday. The artistic teen had been a student at Friends since the sixth grade and was active in school events, said his parents, Patricia and Michael Harrison.

Hundreds mourned Graham Harrison at separate funeral services that filled two Baltimore churches.

Displayed in the lobby of the Cathedral of Mary Our Queen during the service there were Harrison's Boy Scout shirt and a 1995 photo of Pope John Paul II blessing him in the cathedral as a cancer-stricken baby during the pope's visit to Baltimore.

A bagpiper's wail punctuated the procession during the teen's funeral service at Old St. Paul's Episcopal Church downtown. In the audience were many of Harrison's doctors and nurses at Johns Hopkins Hospital, where he was long a patient.

Many people wept, but the Rev. Alphonse Rose told them, "Maybe the tears should be for us, because we are poorer for Graham's passing."

Three years later, his memory is undiminished.

"It's really nice to know he is remembered so warmly," said Michael Harrison, former general director of the now-defunct Baltimore Opera Company. He said his son loved Friends School and that his friends still post messages on Graham Harrison's Facebook page from time to time, such as, "Thinking about you. Wishing you were here."

"He liked people and they seemed to like him," Michael Harrison said.

Patricia Harrison said that if her son were still alive, he would have been acting in a recent upper school production of "West Side Story."

"He would have been on that stage," she said.

Patricia Harrison said she keeps up with Friends School and admitted, "I've been living vicariously through him. This honor demonstrates the love and friendship they all shared."

The senior class' decision to honor Graham Harrison was easy, said Declan Meagher, 18, of Roland Park, Graham's friend and former classmate since middle school.

"We all felt connected to Graham," Meagher said. And he said students still honor him in small ways, such as all wearing blue, his favorite color, on a certain day.

At graduation June 12, the graduates will all wear yellow Livestrong bracelets, Meagher said. The bracelets are sold by the Lance Armstrong Foundation to raise money for cancer research.

"I feel like dedicating the picnic glade to Graham is a capstone, a final way to show our appreciation," Meagher said.

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